Tributes paid to South African musician and activist Hugh Masekela

Father of South African jazz, who had career spanning more than five decades, dies aged 78

Tributes paid to South African musician and activist Hugh Masekela

Father of South African jazz, who had career spanning more than five decades, dies aged 78

South Africans have paid tribute to Hugh Masekela, the legendary jazz musician and activist, who died on Tuesday aged 78.

The South African president, Jacob Zuma, said the nation would mourn a man who kept the torch of freedom alive. The arts and culture minister, Nathi Mthethwa, described Masekela as one of the great architects of Afro-Jazz. A baobab tree has fallen, Mthethwa wrote on Twitter.

A statement from the trumpeters family said Masekela passed peacefully in Johannesburg, where he lived and worked for much of his life, on Tuesday morning.

A loving father, brother, grandfather and friend, our hearts beat with a profound loss. Hughs global and activist contribution to and participation in the areas of music, theatre and the arts in general is contained in the minds and memories of millions across six continents, the statement read.

Relatives described Masekelas ebullient and joyous life.

Masekela had been suffering from prostate cancer for almost a decade. He last performed in 2010 in Johannesburg when he gave two concerts that were seen as an epitaph to his long career.

South African social media was flooded with tributes to brother Hugh, whose career and work was closely intertwined with the troubled politics of his homeland.

The singer Johnny Clegg described Masekela as immensely bright and articulate an outstanding musical pioneer and a robust debater, always holding to his South African roots.

Masekela was born in Witbank, a mining town in eastern South Africa, and was given his first trumpet by the anti-apartheid activist archbishop Trevor Huddleston, who formed a pioneering jazz band in Soweto in the 1950s that became a launchpad for many of South Africas most famous jazz musicians.

Masekela went on to study in the UK and the US, where he had significant success.

Hugh
Hugh Masekela with ex-wife Miriam Makeba and Paul Simon in 1987. Photograph: Phil Dent/Redferns

As well as forming close friendships with jazz legends such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charles Mingus, Masekela performed alongside Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s.

He returned to Africa where he played with icons such as Nigerias Fela Kuti, and in 1974 he helped organise a three-day festival before the Rumble in the Jungle boxing clash in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

In 1976, the man who became known as the father of South African jazz composed Soweto Blues in response to the uprising in the vast township. He toured with Paul Simon in the 1980s while continuing his political engagement, writing Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela) in 1987. The song became an anthem of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Timeline

Hugh Masekela timeline

Hugh Masekela is born in KwaGuqa Township, South Africa

Masekela is born near Johannesburg to a health inspector father and social worker mother. He sings and plays the piano as a child. At 14, he sees the Kirk Douglas film Young Man With A Horn and is inspired to take up the trumpet.

King Kong

At school, Masekela played in South Africas first youth orchestra,Huddleston Jazz Band. In 1959, he recorded the first album by a South African jazz band alongside Abdullah Ibrahim and Jonas Gwangwa. In the same year, he played in the orchestra of hit musical King Kong.

Masekela leaves South Africa

The ANC are banned, and after supporting the organisation for many years, Masekela leaves South Africa for London. He then moves to New York, where he meets Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie.

Grazing in the Grass

By the late 60s, Masekela was living in California. In 1967, he played at Monterey festival alongside Janis Joplin and Otis Redding. In 1968, his single Grazing in the Grass reached no 1 in the US.

Zaire 74

Masekela returns to Africa in the early 70s, spending time with musicians including Fela Kuti. He organises the Zaire 74 concerts with US record producer Stewart Levine to coincide with the Muhammad Ali/George Foreman Rumble in the Jungle boxing title fight. In 1980, he moves to Botswana.

Graceland tour

Masekela joins Paul Simon for hisGracelandtour. Simons album was partly recorded in South Africa, and the tour incites protests in London due to the cultural boycott against the country.

Return to South Africa

Masekela returns to South Africa following the end of apartheid and the release from jail ofNelson Mandela. In 1996, he plays for the Queen and Mandela by then elected the countrys first black president during the latters state visit to Britain.

World Cup

Masekela performs at the opening concert of the world cup in South Africa. In 2012, he rejoins Paul Simon for a tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of Graceland.

James Hall, a writer and broadcaster who spent time with Masekela in the 1990s, said he could have prickly personality at times due to the tension and frustration of being away from his own country for so long.

Masekela was briefly married to Miriam Makeba in the 1960s and remained on good terms with the South African singer after their divorce. They had a wonderful friendship and were very, very close, said Hall, who co-wrote Makebas autobiography.

Masekela refused to take citizenship anywhere outside South Africa despite the open arms of many countries, said his son, Selema Mabena Masekela, on Tuesday.

My fathers life was the definition of activism and resistance. His belief [was] that the pure evil of a systematic racist oppression could and would be crushed. Instead he would continue to fight.

After more than 30 years in exile, Masekela returned to South Africa in the early 90s after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the end of apartheid.

In 2010 he performed at the opening ceremony of the football World Cup in Johannesburg.

Masekela had many fans overseas. Hugh Masekela was a titan of jazz and of the anti-apartheid struggle. His courage, words and music inspired me and strengthened the resolve of those fighting for justice in South Africa, said Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter.

Hugh
Hugh Masekela photographed for the Guardian in 2011. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/jan/23/hugh-masekela-south-african-jazz-trumpeter-dies-aged-78

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