Hugh Masekela

When one looks at people like South Africa’s Hugh Masekela, one  immediately understands how generous the “gods” of music have been to Africa and how generous Africa has been to the world.

Hugh Masekela is a South African flugelhornist, trumpeter, bandleader, composer, and singer, who has become an international citizen as a result of his marveling musical career.

Beginning his life in apartheid “corrupted” South Africa, he has developed and kept a significant political voice that has not left him through his years of musical journey in other countries of the world.

Hugh Masekela Early life

Hugh Masekela was born in 1939 in South Africa’s kwa-Guqa Township of Witbank. At birth he was given the name; Hugh Ramopolo Masekela.

Being born into the family of a sculptor father might have as well impacted in Masekela’s life of creativity as a musician, however, his greatest interest spurned for the trumpet after seeing Young Man with a Horn, a 1949 film. His later and most important influence was the music of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, which he cited as having a great impact on his talent.

When he was 14, he was given a trumpet by the most respected advocate of equal rights in South Africa, Father Trevor Huddleston. It was in those years of his teens that he began making his way into what he would become in the not too far future, when he created what later became his signature.

In an attempt to build a foundation for his music career, he went to Guildhall School of music in London. He as well got a scholarship to Manhattan School of Music in New York between 1960 and 1964 from Harry Belafonte who was an American calypso star and human right activist.

Masekela and the late South African songstress, Miriam Makeba got married in 1964. The marriage however did not survive more than two years. In 1999 he married his Ghanaian lover, Elinam Cofie, and has two children; Sal Masekela and Pula Twala.

Hugh Masekela Albums and Songs

Hugh Masekela songs have definitely gone beyond South Africa and in fact the African continent. Arguably one of the greatest jazz musicians, Masekela’s songs and albums began dropping since the 1960s.

His first album, Trumpet Africane was released in 1962. Between that year and 1972, he had recorded and released 14 albums including the Promise to The Future in 1968. It was that album that nailed him a Grammy nomination in 1968 with the track Grazin’ in The Grass. The single topped the US chart and sold four million copies

Through his career that has spanned more than fifty years, Masekela has produced over 40 albums. Some of the albums got massive international recognition, such as his 1984 Technobush. A track in the album, Don’t Go Lose It Baby, took him to the top dance charts in the US.

Hugh Masekela Stimela is one of his songs that still remains popular so many years after it was released. One song however that was very dear to South Africans was his 1987 Bring Him Back Home, which he recorded as a tribute for Nelson Mandela. The song appeared in the album; Tomorrow.

His albums in the turn of the millennium include Sixty (2000), Still Grazing (2004), Almost like Being in Jazz (2005), Playing at Work (2013) and Friends (2012, with Larry Willis). Between 2000 and 2013, he has recorded and released over 10 albums.

Hugh Jazz has been a thing to reckon with so many years after it has made its entry into the Jazz world.

Awards and Recognitions

In 1968, he was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Pop Performance (Instrumental) for his Grazin’ in the Grass.

He was as well nominated in 1988 for Broadway Tony Award as Best score (Musical). Other honors are:

  • BBC Radio Jazz Awards (2002)
  • Lifetime achievement Award, Channel O Music Video Awards (2005)
  • African Music Legend Awards: Ghana Music Awards (2007)
  • Order of Ikhamanga: South African National Orders Ceremony (2010)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: WOMEX World Music Expo in Copenhagen (2011)
  • Honorary Doctorate in Music: University of York (2014)
  • Doctor of Music: Rhodes University (2015)

In order to contribute to the development of music, found the Botswana international school of music in 1986. The school is a nonprofit institution which aims at training musicians in Africa.

Through his musical journey, he came in contact through work with great artists including Harry Belafonte, Dizzy Gillespie, The Byrds, Fela Kuti, Marvin Gaye, Herb Alpert, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Miriam Makeba.