On 23rd January 2019, a dark cloud hangs in South Africa. The father of South African jazz had just passed on; it would be news that would shake the whole nation especially the jazz lovers. Hugh Masekela, popularly known as the father of Jazz in South Africa, died from prostate cancer. He was known for never putting down the trumpet and the magic he made with that musical instrument.
You might not have known him personally, but maybe you have come across his music. Ramapolo Hugh Masekela was born on April 4, 1939. He grew up in KwaGuqa township which is about 100km east of Pretoria.
His love for music started when he was a young boy. According to him, he was surrounded by music. His uncle had a gramophone. If you do not know what is a gramophone, it is an old type of record player. It is just like an mp3 or a radio. It performs the same function as the other sound recording devices. Moving on swiftly Masekela began singing and later learned to play the piano at an early age.
However, his love for jazz was by accident. According to him, Masekela developed an interest in Jazz after watching a Hollywood movie about American jazz musicians. Later at the age of 14, he got his first trumpet from Trevor Huddleston who was his school teacher. Since then he has never put it down.
A Look at His Music career
When Masekela was in school, his talent could not be ignored. He and some of his schoolmates formed the Huddleston Jazz group which would become the first South African orchestra. However, the situation in South Africa was at its worst. The apartheid regime had taken a toll on South Africans, and racism was at its peak.
Father Huddleston who was an anti-apartheid activist had been banished in the country. This prompted Masekela on his next move which would change his life.
One of the worst time in apartheid South Africa was in 1969 when sixty students were shot dead during a peaceful protest in Sharpeville. The students were protesting against a law which restricted them from moving into white territories. This moment prompted Masekela to leave the country for London.
Although he stayed away from his homeland for almost three decades, it was the struggle of his fellow South African that inspired his music. When you listen to his songs, you will hear about the sorrows, struggles, and joys of his people. One of his best singles is Grazing in the Grass which we recommend you should listen.
Masekela came back in 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released. However, behind the scene, he was battling drug abuse. This would later cost him millions of South African Rand.
In 2008 Masekela was diagnosed with prostate cancer. However, it is in 2019 that he would lose the battle and succumb to the illness. At the age of 78, he had lived life to the fullest, and he shall indeed be missed. He might have died, but his music lives in our lives forever.