For years on end, Africa has been sidelined when it comes to successes in the Jazz music industry, this is evident when we closely match up African artists to the rest of the world.
This above statement becomes more of an opinion when we come to mention names like Ray Phiri of Stimela, Steve Kekana, Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa the list goes on and on.
South Africa in the past had very little exposure to the global stage, but thanks to these talents and the courage they showed this not only gave us the chance to share our art, our stories of struggle it also gave recognition to other local artists who had not yet made their breakthroughs.
I’m very honoured and grateful to have lived in an era that celebrated the life of great trumpeter Hugh Ramapolo Masekela who is our P.O.T.W on this edition. A lot can be said about the life of Bra Hugh*, a lot of accolades can be mentioned alongside his name, we can go digging in a deep catalogue of smash hits and classic albums that are going to live with us forever we can go on to talk about his contribution to the music scene here more especially Jazz music. But on this tribute, we would just love to celebrate the life of this iconic African born internationally acclaimed artist.
Life started on the 4th of April 1939 when Bra Hugh was born, in Mpumalanga. He was raised for most of his life by his grandmother who ran an underground cartel of selling alcohol to the miners in Witbank. It was at the age of 14 when he got the chance to follow his dream, this was the age when he got his first trumpet and started learning how to play.
As the years went on he managed to develop his talent as a vocalist and all out Jazz musician. In his work, he focused more on the tragedies South Africa faced during the 1950s and 1960s. This inspired and influenced him to make music and also spread political change. He was an artist who in his music vividly portrayed the struggles and sorrows, as well as the joys and passions of his country. His music protested about apartheid, slavery, government; the hardships individuals were living. Masekela reached a large population that also felt oppressed due to the country’s situation.
His career had it’s high tides and it’s following the 21 March 1960 Sharpeville massacre—where 69 protestors were shot dead in Sharpeville, and the South African government banned gatherings of ten or more people—and the increased brutality of the Apartheid state, this is the time when Bra Hugh* left the country. He was helped by international friends, who got him admitted into London’s Guildhall School of Music in 1960. This move proved to be a great one for his career because he became an international star like his band mate and wife, the late Mama Afrika mme Mariam Makeba. Their careers skyrocketed to fame and there was no stopping them from there.
With a catalogue boasting more than 40 albums and greatest hits compilations, it was not by chance or a surprise that he was nominated several times for the Grammy Awards. Even though he was not as successful as the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, he did get awarded for his great work and has received lifetime achievement awards and that alone can give you the idea of the impact he had in the music scene.
Not only was he a successful person, he also helped others succeed by establishing several music workshops and foundations that helped with the development of the local talent, this includes the Botswana International School of Music which he established in 1985, this workshop served as a great example at how he made it his mission to give back to his people.
We can really go on about his successful albums and hits that managed to top charts in the U.S and the world, but we would rather appreciate it if we celebrated his life and the legacy he left behind for generations to live on. Bra Hugh proved that limitations are only self made, and only one’s own mind can set boundaries to what they can achieve. The life of Bra Hugh* will be for generations celebrated because he showed the world that we too can also have a voice or a bass.
We remember you Bra Hugh* and we will continue telling your stories to the generations that are going to come we hope you are looking down on us where ever you are in the heavens.
RIP Hugh Masekela
Images © Getty Images.