Fare Thee Well, Father Of South African Jazz Hugh Masekela


Hugh Masekela is considered as the father of South African Jazz; his death has come as a shock to his fans and the music industry at large. What Hugh has accomplished in over six decades in the music industry is nothing short of astounding. His passion for music started at a tender age and through mentors such as Archbishop Trevor Huddleston.

From the young age, it was apparent that Hugh’s would influence on the society through his music. Soon as he had gotten his first trumpet, his schoolmates showed a keen interest in instruments, which subsequently led to the creation of South Africa’s first youth orchestra, the Huddleston Jazz Band. His music concentrated on the injustices that were happening in South Africa at the time, some of the issues he addressed are slavery, apartheid, government and the living hardships of his people at the time.

Hugh Masekela. Image from http://www.afropop.org/28546/best-of-the-beat-on-afropop-hugh-masekela/

Later on, Hugh would go ahead to work with bands such as the Manhattan Brothers, King Kong, Jazz Epistles and others. Some of the notable names he worked with at the time include Nathan Mdledle, Abdullah Ibrahim, Makhaya Ntshoko and Kippie Moeketsi.

In 1960, during the Sharpeville massacre, the government banned gathering of ten or more people. Masekela would then leave the country for the United Kingdom through Archbishop Huddleston, Yehudi Menuhin, and John Dankworth. They got him admitted to Guildhall School Music in London. After, he briefly attended the Guildhall School of Music and drama before he secured a scholarship to attend the Manhattan School of Music in New York. In 1964, he married his friend and bandmate, Miriam Makeba. Though they divorced two years later, the two would further their musical friendship until Makeba’s passing in 2008.

During his time abroad, Masekela career had a significant boost, and he formed ties with legends such as John Coltrane, Mile Davis, and Charles Mingus. He also performed alongside the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, and Janis Joplin. He then returned to Africa where his success continues, he played with Nigeria’s Fela Kuti and also helped organize a three-day festival before Muhammed Ali’s and George Foreman’s boxing clash in Zaire (DRC).


Masekela returned to his mother country in the wake of 1990, when the apartheid regime was slowly dying. South Africans welcomed him as a prizewinner and a national hero. Over the course of his very successful career, he won various awards including two Grammy Awards, one for his 80’s hit ‘Grazing in the Grass’ and the other for his 2012 album, Jabulani. In 2011, he was also awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the WOMEX World Music Fair.

Masekela also had the pleasure of meeting Queen Elizabeth in 1996. He was part of the state visit led by Nelson Mandela. In 2012, he would again perform for the Queen in a charity event. Other performers were Quincy Jones, Phill Collins and Tony Bennet.

In the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa, he played at the opening concert. Towards the end of the tournament, he recorded another pop anthem with Till Bronner, A German trumpeter. The song was called ‘Win the World’.

Kenyan fans had a chance to see this brilliant performer a number of times with the last time being at a thrilling Safaricom Jazz Festival concert – Safaricom Jazz: One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.

Hugh Masekela never had a dull moment; he performed all through his career until his death on 23rd January 2018. He was more than just a musician. He was champion of human rights, equality, and freedom. Hugh Ramapolo Masekela was and is a musical legend.

There is a tribute concert this Tuesday for those who love Hugh Masekela’s music.



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