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Hugh Masekela, South African jazz trumpeter, dies aged 78

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Hugh Masekela, the legendary South African jazz musician, has died aged 78.

A statement from the trumpeter’s family said Masekela “passed peacefully” in Johannesburg, where he lived and worked for much of his life.

“A loving father, brother, grandfather and friend, our hearts beat with a profound loss. Hugh’s global and activist contribution to and participation in the areas of music, theatre and the arts in general is contained in the minds and memories of millions across six continents,” the statement read.
Masekela had been suffering from prostate cancer for almost a decade. He last performed in 2010 in Johannesburg when he gave two concerts that were seen as an “epitaph” to his long career.

South African social media was immediately flooded with tributes to “brother Hugh”, whose career and work was closely intertwined with the troubled politics of his homeland.

Masekela was born in Witbank, a mining town in eastern South Africa, and was given his first trumpet by the anti-apartheid activist archbishop Trevor Huddleston, who formed a pioneering jazz band in Soweto in the 1950s that became a launchpad for many of South Africa’s most famous jazz musicians.

Masekela went on to study in the UK and the US, where he had significant success.

As well as close friendships with jazz legends such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charles Mingus, Masekela also performed alongside stars Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s. He was married to singer and activist Miriam Makeba, known as “Mama Africa”, from 1964 to 1966.


In 1976, the man who became known as the father of South African jazz composed Soweto Blues in response to the uprising in the vast township. He toured with Paul Simon in the 1980s while continuing his political engagement, writing Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela) in 1987. The song became an anthem of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Towards the end of a career that spanned five decades he performed at the opening ceremony of the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg.


Hugh Masekela - what I'm thinking about ... a crisis for African culture

The South African president, Jacob Zuma, said the nation would mourn a man who “kept the torch of freedom alive”.

“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,” Zuma said in a statement.

The arts and culture minister, Nathi Mthethwa, described Masekela as “one of the great architects of Afro-Jazz”. “A baobab tree has fallen, the nation has lost a one of a kind musician,” Mthethwa wrote on Twitter.

President Kenyatta too was hit hard by the death of the icon whom he described as "a friend." In a series of tweets on his official Twitter handle, Kenyatta described the fallen legend as an African patriot who fought against injustices meted against black Africans by the apartheid regime in South Africa.

It is hard to find the words with which to bid my friend Hugh Masekela farewell: so long and rich was his life; and so inspiring his example. pic.twitter.com/6INizmj2Mh

— Uhuru Kenyatta (@UKenyatta) January 23, 2018

 

Though born in a South Africa still under the sway of White supremacy, his talent quickly distinguished him. His music then was the music of a free Africa: full of anger at injustice; confident that one day these injustices would be overcome. pic.twitter.com/GcoNImJMko

— Uhuru Kenyatta (@UKenyatta) January 23, 2018

Hugh Masekela last performed in Kenya in August 2016 at the Michael Joseph Safaricom Center in Nairobi. 

Additional reporting by Daniel Ominde
 

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