It is with a profound sense of shock and disbelief that the Patron of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation, its Board of Trustees and the rest of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation Team learnt of the passing away of Jazz Legend and struggle activist Hugh Masekela.
It is all the more tragic for former President Mbeki because only on Sunday the 21st January, he had expressed the desire to go and visit Bra Hugh after he was told by comrade Wally Serote that Bra Hugh was in a critical condition.
Bra Hugh Masekela was born in Witbank on the 4th April 1939. His talent was discovered and launched by another anti-apartheid veteran Archbishop Father Trevor Huddleston who bought him his first trumpet. Bra Hugh mastered the instrument and joined with other youth to form the Huddleston Jazz Band.
During his illustrious career he played with other Jazz Greats both local and international, such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa, Early Mabuza, Miriam Makeba and others too numerous to mention.
One of the greatest travesties of racism in South Africa is that our country produced some of the greatest, well known and internationally acclaimed stars in the field of music, literature, the arts and humanities but were not recognised and celebrated in the country of their birth simply because they happened to be Black.
It is not difficult to understand the twisted logic and pseudo-scientific rationale for this despicable attitude. The talent that was expressed by these giants served to disprove the superiority of the white race and this was intolerable to the racist regime.
Consequently, the people of South Africa were deprived of the privilege to enjoy these artists and the great talent as many left the country to find fame and recognition in foreign countries.
Little did the demagogues and racist bigots realise that the very act of suppression and intolerance reinforced resentment and acted as a motive force that strengthened the resolve to intensify the struggle. The life and times of Bra Hugh Masekela once again bears testimony to the indomitability of the human spirit in the face of oppression and injustice.
Bra Hugh Masekela got his opportunity in 1959 when he joined Todd Matshikiza’s all African jazz opera King Kong. Masekela, including Miriam Makeba left with the musical to perform in London in 1961.
Throughout his life in exile, Bra Hugh never forgot his roots and he used his trumpet and his musical talent to highlight the plight and suffering of the Black people under apartheid.
Most notable among his compositions that expressed his nostalgia and his longing for home are as well as exposing the injustices visited upon the Black majority are “Stimela” (which is a tribute to migrant labourers who travelled from Namibia, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Lesotho Botswana, Swaziland, and the Hinterlands of South and Central Africa, to work in the Gold mines of South Africa.) “Home Is Where The Music Is” “Union Of South Africa” “Vasco Da Gama – Colonial Man” “Grazing In The Grass.” He also did a rendition of “Khawuleza Mama, Nanga Amapolisa” and many more.
It is an undeniable fact that the younger generation that grew up in the period of the 1960’s and the 1970’s being fed on this spiritually and culturally nourishing diet of Masekela’s music became conscientised and militant. The music of Masekela and his fellow musicians struck a chord that resonated with the growing anger, the militancy and the resolve that racism, oppression and subjugation was an unnatural state for the human conditions.
In time to come when South African History is written from a cultural perspective, some accolades will be reserved for Hugh Masekela, Willie Kgositsile, Ray Phiri, Miriam Makeba, Thandi Klaasen, Brenda Fassie and others for the critical role they played in highlighting and condemning the crime against humanity through their music.
One can say without fear of contradiction that Bra Hugh will receive a warm and melodious welcome in the here-after, that the skies and the heavens will thunder with the sounds of trumpets, trombones, saxophones accompanied by the powerful voices of the Miriam Makeba’s singing “WELCOME DEAR BROTHER AND SON OF THE SOIL, YOURS WAS A LIFE LIVED TO THE FULLEST IN THE SERVICE OF YOUR PEOPLE AND COUNTRY.”
The Patron of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation as well as the Board of Trustees wish to convey their heartfelt condolences to the family, fellow musicians and friends of Bra Hugh during this sad period.
The South African people in their entirety surely mourn together with the family at this sad loss.