Hugh Masekela, South African Jazz Legend, dies

hugh masekela

South Africa – Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa says the nation has lost a one-of-a-kind musician with the passing of Jazz legend bra Hugh Masekela.

Masekela has died at the age of 78, after a battle with prostate cancer.

“A baobab tree has fallen. We can safely say bra Hugh was one of the great architects of Afro-Jazz and he uplifted the soul of our nation through his timeless music,” said the Minister in a Tweet on his official Twitter handle.

The world-renowned flugelhornist, trumpeter, bandleader, composer, singer and defiant political voice was born in Witbank, in 1939.

At the age of 14, the deeply respected advocator of equal rights in South Africa, Father Trevor Huddleston, provided Masekela with a trumpet and soon after the Huddleston Jazz Band was formed.

According to his website, Masekela began to hone his, now signature, Afro-Jazz sound in the late 1950s during a period of intense creative collaboration, most notably performing in the 1959 musical King Kong, written by Todd Matshikiza, and, soon thereafter, as a member of the now legendary South African group, the Jazz Epistles.

In 1960, at the age of 21 he left South Africa to begin what would be 30 years in exile.

On arrival in New York he enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music. This coincided with a golden era of jazz music and the young Masekela immersed himself in the New York jazz scene where nightly he watched greats like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus and Max Roach.

Under the tutelage of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, Hugh was encouraged to develop his own unique style, feeding off African rather than American influences – his debut album, released in 1963, was entitled Trumpet Africaine.

In the late 1960s, Masekela moved to Los Angeles, where he was befriended by hippie icons like David Crosby, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper.

His subsequent solo career has spanned five decades, during which time he has released over 40 albums and has been featured on countless more, and has worked with such diverse artists as Harry Belafonte, Dizzy Gillespie, The Byrds, Fela Kuti, Marvin Gaye, Herb Alpert, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and the late Miriam Makeba.

In 1990, Hugh returned home, following the unbanning of the ANC and the release of the former President Nelson Mandela.

In June 2010, he opened the FIFA Soccer World Cup Kick-Off Concert to a global audience and performed at the event’s opening ceremony in Soweto’s Soccer City. In the same year, President Jacob Zuma honoured him with the highest order in South Africa, the Order of Ikhamanga.

Masekela is a Grammy award winner for “Best Contemporary Pop Performance-Instrumental”. –

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