Hugh Rampolo Masekela was a world-renowned South African trumpeter, flugelhornist, cornetist, composer and singer. He was born in a mining town called Witbank, east of Johannesburg in South Africa. His anti–apartheid jazz songs like Soweto Blues and Bring Him Back Home became famous after the 1994 elections. This South African gem had a love for music from the very beginning, singing and playing the piano as a child. At the age of 14, he decided to learn to play the trumpet after being inspired by the film Young Man With a Horn and his first trumpet was given to him by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston.
After Masekela had mastered the trumpet, he organised a group of his school friends to form the Huddleston Jazz Band – which was South Africa's first youth orchestra – and played music that reflected the struggle, exploitation and conflict in South Africa. at the time As Masekela evolved as a musician, he got more recognition and ended up playing in the orchestra for King Kong, one of the first successful theatrical blockbusters. He joined Alfred Herbert's African Jazz Revue in 1956 using music to spread political change. After the Sharpeville Massacre in 1961, Huddleston assisted Masekela in travelling overseas to study and Masekela therefore was forced into exile.
After many months in exile, Masekela seized the opportunity to study at the London Guildhall School of Music, and later the Manhattan School of Music, where he befriended Harry Belafonte. He pursued a career in music, recording new songs until, in 1968, he recorded his first hit single Grazing in the Grass. As his music career started to succeed, he began to collaborate with famous artists like The Byrds and Paul Simon.
He then moved to Botswana to set up a mobile studio using African mbaqanga styles as an influence on his new music. He took part in the Graceland tour with Paul Simon and another famouse SA group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, defending the musicians when they were accused of violating the ANC's cultural boycott against the apartheid regime. His song Bring Him Back Home became a hit in the midst of the fall of the apartheid regime following the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1992.
Masekela appeared on a documentary film in 2003 called Amandla! about the apartheid struggle and his own experiences. He played alongside big celebrities like Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s.
He was then married MiriamMakeba, known as "Mama Africa", a singer and activist, from 1964 to 1966.Masekela became known as "the father ofSouth African jazz", heading movements to promote both constant political engagements as well as local SA music too.
His music evolved into an adult contemporary style including African styles of music infused with jazz and funk – sounds which have been incorporated into four of his latest albums, Techno-Bush, Tomorrow, Uptownship and Revival, while going on to perform live shows in USA and Canada.
Sadly, the South African jazz star passed away at the age of 78 on the 23rd of January after many years of battling prostate cancer. His last performance in 2010 was seen as a final tribute to his successful music career before his cancer worsened.
The whole country is in mourning over the loss of such a talented, determined man, with President Jacob Zuma releasing a statement saying: “It is an immeasurable loss to the music industry and to the country at large. His contribution to the struggle for liberation will never be forgotten".
Rest in peace, bra Hugh. Your music and compassion for humanity will live on forever in SAs soul.