23/01/2018 13:11 SAST | Updated 23/01/2018 16:53 SAST

Hugh Masekela: 'Isithwalandwe' – An Activist By Default

Thank you for the music.

News of the death of world-renowned trumpeter Hugh Masekela sent shockwaves around the country on Tuesday morning. South African music lovers, celebrities and government officials have sent tributes and condolences to his family and friends.

The genesis of Bra Hugh:

Known affectionately as Bra Hugh, Masekela was born in Witbank, South Africa in 1939. He was introduced to music at the age of 14, when Sophiatown anti-apartheid stalwart Father Trevor Huddleston gave him a trumpet. Soon after, the Huddleston Jazz Band was formed.

He honed his Afro-Jazz sound in the late 1950s and featured in the 1959 musical "King Kong", written by Todd Matshikiza, which was a smash hit all over the country and eventually reached the West End in London.

In 1960, at 21, he left South Africa at the start of what would be 30 years in exile during apartheid.

He enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music in New York, and released his first album three years later, titled "Trumpet Africaine".

His solo career spanned five decades, during which he released more than 40 albums.

He worked with some world-renowned artists like Harry Belafonte, Dizzy Gillespie, The Byrds, Fela Kuti, Marvin Gaye, Herb Alpert, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and the late Miriam Makeba – to whom he was married from 1964 to 1966.

Musician by intent; activist by default:

Masekela was banished from South Africa by the apartheid government for speaking out against its policies in the 1970s.

During that time, he lived in various African countries, finally returning to South Africa in the early 1990s following the unbanning of the ANC and the release of Nelson Mandela.

Masekela used music to protest apartheid and slavery.

When asked about the role of music in the struggle for liberation, he used to joke: "We will go down in history as an army that spent a lot of time singing, rather than fighting."


In 2010, Masekela performed at the FIFA World Cup opening ceremony at FNB Stadium. In the same year, he created the musical "Songs Of Migration" with James Ngcobo. The musical drew critical acclaim and played to packed houses globally – including in Amsterdam, London and Washington.

2010 was also the year that President Jacob Zuma honoured Masekela with the Order of Ikhamanga in Gold for his exceptional contribution to music and the struggle against apartheid. The order is the highest civilian honour in South Africa.

The WOMEX World Music Expo in Copenhagen also honoured him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

Also in 2011, the U.S. Virgin Islands proclaimed March 18 "Hugh Masekela Day" in his honour.

His performance with the group U2 during the Johannesburg leg of the ensemble's 360 World Tour was one that frontman Bono will never forget. He described meeting and playing with Masekela as one of the highlights of his [Bono's] career.

He was a three-time Grammy-nominated artist.

Masekela lost his lengthy battle with prostate cancer at a Johannesburg hospital on Thursday.

His family said details of his memorial and funeral services will be communicated as they become available.

Rest in peace, Bra Hugh.

In Pictures: Life And Times Of Hugh Masekela: The Legend Lives On