Hugh Masekela, a giant of South African music who gave soundtracks to many generations, departed this world yesterday morning after a brave fight with prostate cancer. He was 78.
His death has saddened us at RiSA and we send our heartfelt condolences to the Masekela family, friends, colleagues, and fans of this titan of music.
Bra Hugh, as he was affectionately known, was a towering figure in local music, first as one of the few remaining elder statesmen of music and secondly as a well of wisdom having been in the industry for over six decades.
His death is a monumental loss. He displayed a rare quality and commitment to the cause of culture till the end. He never once contemplated retirement, but remained resolute in his work as an artist and a social commentator through his music and his standpoint on issues that confront the African societies of today.
He was honoured with a SAMA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.
Born Hugh Ramapolo Masekela in Kwa Guqa township, Emalahleni on April 4 1939, Masekela was destined to be a musician. After Father Trevor Huddleston presented him with a trumpet he never looked back. He blew it until the world echoed with his sounds.
Masekela was part of the pioneering brigade of South African musicians who flew the South African flag high and proudly in the United States of America in exile along with the likes of Miriam Makeba, Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya. He reached international fame when, in 1968, he released Grazing in the Grass which topped American pop charts and was a worldwide hit. Among his rich catalogue is the ever popular Stimela and Thanayi which resonated with the young and old. Masekela’s genius on the trumpet can never be doubted. He was a permanent fixture in the live jazz concert circuit and beyond.
A recipient of the National Order of Ikhamanga Gold which was bestowed on him in 2010 for his contribution to music and the struggle against apartheid, Masekela was an advocate of Black Pride and made no excuses about it.
RiSA CEO Nhlanhla Sibisi commented: “There has been an outpouring of emotion and sadness over the passing of Bra Hugh and we as RiSA send our support to his family and the public. South Africans will forever remember the spirit of Bra Hugh and what he represented. He was a fearless campaigner and activist, but above all an icon of South African music. The world knows of us because of his contributions and how he remained an African. It is the end of an era, of a life well lived. He was right up there with the best of the best. Rest in peace Bra Hugh, you ran a good race.”