Jazz artistes pay tribute to Hugh Masekela

When news broke of the passing of jazz legend Hugh Masekela on Tuesday, messages of condolences from fans and fellow musicians poured in from near and far. The New Times caught up with a number of jazz musicians to find out how they received the news of Masekela’s demise.
The late Hugh Maseleka (Net photo)
The late Hugh Maseleka (Net photo)

When news broke of the passing of jazz legend Hugh Masekela on Tuesday, messages of condolences from fans and fellow musicians poured in from near and far.

The New Times caught up with a number of jazz musicians to find out how they received the news of Masekela’s demise. 

Stella Tushabe

Jazz musicians have lost a mentor and an idol. And as Africa- and the world - mourns Hugh Masekela, I looked back at his life and thought; what an admirable life he lived. His legacy stirs a lot of inspiration in me.

His anti-apartheid contribution through one of his songs, Bring him back home (Mandela), reminds me that music goes beyond entertainment and it has the potential to change the world if fully utilised.

As someone with the same dream  to teach the little ones about music (saxophone), his founding of ‘The Botswana International School of Music’ builds confidence and reminds me that it’s not just desirable, it’s also necessary and achievable.

Stella Tushabe.

I feel sad for his favourite trumpet that might never be played the same way it’s been used to, and I feel so happy for Isaiah Katumwa who got to work with him on several occasions.

His body might have gone to rest but his legacy lives on.

Rest in peace Hugh Masekela. Indeed, legends don’t die, they sleep.

Jonathan Bower

Hugh Masekela was a great legend of music, a storyteller and a social commentator who brought light to millions. Musically, he brought together a keen knowledge of American jazz with the South African music flavours of the Mandela generation to create his own joyous sound, both as an instrumentalist on the flugelhorn and in his music as a whole. 

His delivery was passionate and infectious; if necessary he would cajole his audiences into participation, engaging them with old South African stories as he introduced the songs.

Jonathan Bower.

With astute social commentary he kept alive a fire for social justice, decrying the newfound apathy of the current generation that is driven by digital information overload and compassion fatigue.

He was a great soul and a great example to humanity.

Herbert Rock

I feel so sad about the loss of our grandfather, one of the founders and a teacher in the music industry.

My first time to hear about Hugh Masekela was back in 2008 through my music teacher, Mr Manisulu Akiki, who was preparing to buy a ticket to go and watch his performance at Sheraton Hotel, Kampala.

When I joined “Jazz Options Band” in 2010 I opened to perform one of his songs, Part of a whole.

I first heard this song on Radio One FM in Kampala; his melody was superior which prompted me to do a lot of practice and meet his standards.

Herbert Rock

Masekela’s solo on the trumpet was so complicated to me by that time and the toner sax part was so melodious in that when I performed it, it took me to greater heights as far as jazz music is concerned.

Masekela’s professionalism was manifested in his jazz music, especially in songs like Grazing in the grass, and Vasco da Hamas.

I will greatly miss Hugh Masekela. I will raise the jazz flag high to keep his legacy intact. May his soul rest in peace.

Joseph Ategeka

God! How do I start? Hugh Masekela had a very unique sound and his approach was quite different from most jazz guys.

As an artiste, Masekela helped me know how to engage my audience. He was so calm and perfect during his shows and this I had to learn because I always wanted to play notes like him, especially on solos.

Joseph Ategeka

His ability to cut across all generations and also cut across genres inspired me. For instance, he could play the trumpet to a rap song; this made me feel comfortable playing the trumpet for all kinds of songs.



Hugh Ramapolo Masekela [note (4 April 1939 – 23 January 2018) was a South African trumpeter, flugelhornist, cornetist, composer and singer. He has been described as “the father of South African jazz.”

Masekela was known for his jazz compositions and for writing well-known anti-apartheid songs such as “Soweto Blues” and “Bring Him Back Home”. He also had a number 1 US pop hit in 1968 with his version of “Grazing in the Grass”.

He began singing and playing piano as a child, influenced by seeing the film Young Man with a Horn at 13. Masekela started playing trumpet at 14. He played in the Huddleston Jazz Band, which was led by anti-apartheid crusader and group head Trevor Huddleston. Huddleston was eventually deported, and Masekela co-founded the Merry Makers of Springs along with Jonas Gwangwa.

He later joined Alfred Herbert’s Jazz Revue, and played in studio bands backing popular singers. Masekela was in the orchestra for the musical King Kong, whose cast included Miriam Makeba. He was also in the Jazz Epistles with Abdullah Ibrahim, Makaya Ntshoko, Gwanga, and Kippie Moeketsi.

Masekela was involved in several social initiatives, and served as a director on the board of the Lunchbox Fund, a non-profit organization that provides a daily meal to students of township schools in Soweto. From 1964 to 1966 he was married to singer and activist Miriam Makeba.

He had subsequent marriages to Chris Calloway (daughter of Cab Calloway), Jabu Mbatha and Elinam Cofie. He was the father of American television host Sal Masekela. Poet, educator, and activist Barbara Masekela is his younger sister. Masekela died in Johannesburg on the early morning of 23 January 2018 from prostate cancer, aged 78.