The trumpet player died on Tuesday, Jan. 23, in South Africa, following a prostate cancer that he had been fighting for nearly ten years. He was 78 years old.

Ramapolo Hugh Masekela was not only a jazz legend or the father of South African jazz. He was much more than that. “Brother Hugh” was a musician-activist who used his voice and especially his breath – trumpet, bugle or cornet – to vent his intimate convictions, share the fierce battles he led and even addictions with which he struggled. His polymorphous music is a reflection of a permanent struggle, at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid, against oppression. Impetuous, sharp breath, steeped in both anger and hope …

Is not that what we hear when we listen to Soweto Blues (South Africa Freedom Song) , a song he wrote in June 1976 following the Soweto massacre, performed by his then wife, the singer Miriam Makeba ?

Or when he plays and sings on his 1987 composition, Bring Him Back Home , title to the funky dumps on which hovers a libertarian and transcendent jazz. A tube that will become the anthem for Nelson Mandela’s liberation movement.

His trumpet is also plaintive and shady. Who remembers the song Stimelapublished on the album Hope in 1994 will be able to attest to it. A jazz sprinkled with funk that takes the guts by its finesse and gravity.

 

Timeless and resonant music

The Jazz Epistles . We are in the 1950s. It is with this fast sextet focused on the be-bop (their titles are unheard), and in which also plays the pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (with whom Masekela will collaborate regularly), that the adventure begins for this native of Witbank, city of Mpumalanga province. He was born there on April 4, 1939.

It was during his adolescence that he felt the trumpet before leaving Soweto for London in 1960. It was then an emergency for the musician: he must leave South Africa. “When the plane took off, it was like I was released from enormous weight. As if for twenty-one years, I had been constipated, “can we read in a passage from his autobiography, published in 2004, S till Grazing: The Musical Journey Of Hugh Masekela , quoted by AFP .

A departure to escape this apartheid regime he will denounce through a timeless music, which still resonates vigorously. There, he joined the Guildhall School Of Music before flying to New York where he will meet the great names of American music, figures of jazz, blues, soul or rock – Miles Davis to Harry Belafonte via Jimmi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye and his wife Miram Makeba for two years.

Not to mention the producer Stewart Levine, met on the benches of the Manhattan School Of Music. It was with him that he co-organized Zaire 74, the famous African Woodstock (bands of the performance of African artists who had performed at the Kinshasa stadium in September 1974 during the boxing fight between Mohammed Ali to George Foreman, Miriam Makeba to Franco Luambo and TP OK Jazz, were also published last year on the initiative of the two accomplices ).

Yes, Masekela is much more interested in the African part of this concert, which also welcomed American stars like James Brown and BB King. He will fight for years so that the recordings of the concerts of African artists come out in the open.

The hybridity of a giant afrojazz 

In the United States, where his career really takes off, this jazz giant cultivates a highly hybrid music with funk, mbaqanga (Zulu musical style), West African music, Central Africa and even disco music. ( Do not Go Lose It Baby invades the dancefloors in 1984).

His compositions are marked by a certain trance, that of the religious songs of his childhood but also the songs of the workers of Soweto, township where he grew up (this is also the theme of the title Stimela ). What fail to stick a label. Rather salvating for a jazz musician whose career spans nearly sixty years.

He is a prolific composer and conductor who accompanies international stars including the American Paul Simon while publishing a number of major albums (peeling his huge discography is an unparalleled pleasure). In 1968, the publication of the very groovy Grazin ‘In The Grass , one of his biggest hits, was composed by Philemon Hou, who was the top international Billboard Hot 100 this year.

The trumpet player died on Tuesday, Jan. 23, in South Africa, following a prostate cancer that he had been fighting for nearly ten years. He was 78 years old.

Ramapolo Hugh Masekela was not only a jazz legend or the father of South African jazz. He was much more than that. “Brother Hugh” was a musician-activist who used his voice and especially his breath – trumpet, bugle or cornet – to vent his intimate convictions, share the fierce battles he led and even addictions with which he struggled. His polymorphous music is a reflection of a permanent struggle, at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid, against oppression. Impetuous, sharp breath, steeped in both anger and hope …

Is not that what we hear when we listen to Soweto Blues (South Africa Freedom Song) , a song he wrote in June 1976 following the Soweto massacre, performed by his then wife, the singer Miriam Makeba ?

Or when he plays and sings on his 1987 composition, Bring Him Back Home , title to the funky dumps on which hovers a libertarian and transcendent jazz. A tube that will become the anthem for Nelson Mandela’s liberation movement.

His trumpet is also plaintive and shady. Who remembers the song Stimelapublished on the album Hope in 1994 will be able to attest to it. A jazz sprinkled with funk that takes the guts by its finesse and gravity.

 

 

Timeless and resonant music

The Jazz Epistles . We are in the 1950s. It is with this fast sextet focused on the be-bop (their titles are unheard), and in which also plays the pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (with whom Masekela will collaborate regularly), that the adventure begins for this native of Witbank, city of Mpumalanga province. He was born there on April 4, 1939.

It was during his adolescence that he felt the trumpet before leaving Soweto for London in 1960. It was then an emergency for the musician: he must leave South Africa. “When the plane took off, it was like I was released from enormous weight. As if for twenty-one years, I had been constipated, “can we read in a passage from his autobiography, published in 2004, S till Grazing: The Musical Journey Of Hugh Masekela , quoted by AFP .

 

 

A departure to escape this apartheid regime he will denounce through a timeless music, which still resonates vigorously. There, he joined the Guildhall School Of Music before flying to New York where he will meet the great names of American music, figures of jazz, blues, soul or rock – Miles Davis to Harry Belafonte via Jimmi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye and his wife Miram Makeba for two years.

Not to mention the producer Stewart Levine, met on the benches of the Manhattan School Of Music. It was with him that he co-organized Zaire 74, the famous African Woodstock (bands of the performance of African artists who had performed at the Kinshasa stadium in September 1974 during the boxing fight between Mohammed Ali to George Foreman, Miriam Makeba to Franco Luambo and TP OK Jazz, were also published last year on the initiative of the two accomplices ).

Yes, Masekela is much more interested in the African part of this concert, which also welcomed American stars like James Brown and BB King. He will fight for years so that the recordings of the concerts of African artists come out in the open.

The hybridity of a giant afrojazz 

In the United States, where his career really takes off, this jazz giant cultivates a highly hybrid music with funk, mbaqanga (Zulu musical style), West African music, Central Africa and even disco music. ( Do not Go Lose It Baby invades the dancefloors in 1984).

His compositions are marked by a certain trance, that of the religious songs of his childhood but also the songs of the workers of Soweto, township where he grew up (this is also the theme of the title Stimela ). What fail to stick a label. Rather salvating for a jazz musician whose career spans nearly sixty years.

He is a prolific composer and conductor who accompanies international stars including the American Paul Simon while publishing a number of major albums (peeling his huge discography is an unparalleled pleasure). In 1968, the publication of the very groovy Grazin ‘In The Grass , one of his biggest hits, was composed by Philemon Hou, who was the top international Billboard Hot 100 this year.

 

From exile to return

In 1975, the title Mama , published on the album The Boys Doin ‘It also marks the spirits. It tells the story of a woman returning to South Africa after the release of Nelson Mandela after forced exile. This is the sweet dream that feeds Hugh Masekela. And it is in February 1990 that it is concretized with the release of Madiba.

He then finds his southern and native land where he will continue to explore and exploit all he has amassed as influences. He makes his voice heard both on stage and in politics. In particular, he is critical of the Black Government’s economic emancipation program introduced by the new government, which he believes is creating a new black elite.

The multi-award-winning musician will also take the opportunity to exalt his activism, marked in particular by a pan-Africanism without limit: to abolish the borders in the name of African unity … So much for the slogan.

It is therefore not surprising that we find him skimming the scenes with a certain Fela Kuti, whose music is equally marked by militancy in Nigeria.

But Hugh Masekela has also experienced a turbulent life, marked by excesses: money, drugs and alcohol. A dark period of his life that he will mention in his autobiography. And yet, his music remains bright. “I was hooked on money, when I could find it, addicted to drugs, which were never hard to find, addicted to love, addicted to sex and music, and not at all in a hurry to become sober. In fact, it took me several decades to wake up. ”

“A baobab fell”

Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa has not failed to react to the announcement of the death of the architect of Afro-jazz: “The nation cries one of his talents to the most emblematic signature. It’s a huge loss for the world of music and the whole country. (…) We will not forget his contribution to the struggle for liberation “.

As for the South African Minister of Culture Nathi Mthethwa, it is with these words that he paid homage to the trumpet player: “A baobab has fallen”. A baobab which, even when shot, has lost nothing of its glory. A baobab whose palaver will mark forever the painful and glorious history of South Africa, the oh so valiant music of this country and above all, the history of world jazz.