Obituary – Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela, “The Father of South-African Jazz” has died at the age of 78 after a long and courageous battle with prostate cancer. Nationally recognised for his part of the South-African apartheid struggle, consequently receiving condolences world-wide including some from the leading South African political sphere.

After being given a trumpet at the age of 14, in return for him to stay out of trouble, this rather lack-lustre beginning, grew to become one of the world’s most famous jazz musicians. Playing a key part, in classics like, ‘Soweto Blues’ and his instrumental single, “Grazing in the Grass” which topped the American charts and became a worldwide hit in 1994, Masekela has driven South African jazz for nearly 6 decades. Under the guidance of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, Masekela built upon his originality and created a unique and universally celebrated sound. That later left him performing, amongst musical giants, chiefly at Monterey Pop Festival. The line-up included: The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding.

It is a true travesty, the legendary trumpeter was a key figure in the music industry, yet, his sphere of influence, didn’t just encompass music, he was a recognised fighter for black rights in South Africa, and when he was 21, in 1960, he was exiled from his country of birth for 30 years. Where he began studying at London Guildhall School of Music, and later the Manhattan school of Music. Here he was encouraged to put his traumatic life-experiences into his music, to create an outlet for himself and others to follow.

His death has impacted many because of his work in: music, theatre, social and political activism, and their significant impact, principally on South Africa. This has brought many to pay their respect to the great trumpeter, like Jacob Zuma (South-African President) stated that Masekela’s death was “an immeasurable loss to the music industry and to the country at large”. Continuing to state, “his contribution to the struggle for liberation will never be forgotten”

Masekela returned to South Africa upon the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 after releasing his single in 1986, “Bring Home Nelson Mandela”. In 2008 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but he continued to sing and work for South Africa, his home country. Singing the opening theme at the 2010 World Cup, alongside fellow countryman Fela Kuti – and continued even through the final months of his life to convince men to go and get checked for cancer.

Masekela will be remembered across the board for his unrivalled musical talent, alongside his struggle to achieve mutual respect in South Africa.