Hugh Ramapolo Masekela born 4 April 1939 died 12 January 2018

It was a sad day when this news was made public.  These are a few highlights from his life and a personal anecdote.


Referred to as “the father of South African Jazz”  Hugh Masekela  was a trumpeter,  fugelhornist,  bandleader,  composer,  singer and so much more to so many people world wide.


The anti apartheid songs that he composed, Soweto Blues,   Bring him back home will resonate and long be remembered by all who believe in justice and respect for ones fellow human beings.


The European tour with Paul Simon on the Graceland tour was celebrated not only at the live performances but in the recordings that followed.


He left South Africa in 1960 after Sharpville and was helped by Trevor Huiddleson, Yehudi Menuhin and others to gain entrance to the Guildhill School of Music.


Moved to the USA and entered  the Manhattan School of Music.    Much later returned to SA and in 2017 was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Music from the University of the Witwatersrand.   (Dr Dawn Gould)


Hugh Masekela and his group of singers and musicians were performing at the Grahamstown Arts Festival one year at the same time as  my dance company.  I had a free afternoon and decided to attend a performance of a man I had heard so much about.  And `fortunate’ to get a front row seat although I prefer that the performers are not able too eye ball me.


It always comes as a bit of a cultural shock, to me with a background of every movement from entrance to exit of a performance choreographed, how laid back and relaxed jazz musicians are.  They strolled on and off re-arranging a drum here, another instrument slightly back, adjusting a mic and then Hugh Masekela, master of the stroll, entered so unobtrusively if it had not been for the frisson that radiated through  the audience I might have missed his entrance.


At first, this appeared to be a very straight laced and  uptight audience.  Applause was minimal  and controlled.  And there I was sitting in the front row barely restraining myself from jumping up and down and moving with the rhythm and the supreme musicality of the performers.  But dancers bodies move, sometimes without conscious thought it would seem, and Hugh Masekela knew people.  He wandered over my way and soon I felt as if he was playing for me. 


A recording of whatever kind can never equal that live performance that sensation of receiving a gift  of music and Hugh Masekela was a gifted and generous giver of his enormous talent. 


When interval came he casually informed the audience they would be taking a short break and then he strolled back and started chatting.  Where was I from, what was I doing in Grahamstown etc.  So casual so unassuming as he listened and nodded his head, my impression was, for him it was all about the music and if you shared that love of music it was great and nothing else mattered.


I was wrong about the audience.   They were listening, they were showing these artists respect with their concentration.  Their applause was minimal because they wanted the musicians to continue playing.  No higher compliment to an artist.  But came the end and they rose to their feet and applauded long and loud.


You will not be forgotten.

Amy Gould (editor)