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Death of the legend of Afro-jazz and anti-apartheid militant Hugh Masekela

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – JOE KLAMAR – | The legend of Afro-jazz and anti-apartheid activist Hugh Masekela, February 10, 2013 in Los Angeles

South African jazz legend and figurehead of the fight against apartheid, trumpet player and singer Hugh Masekela died Tuesday at the age of 78, arousing a shower of tributes to salute his “timeless” music and his political commitment .

“It is with great sadness that the family of Ramapolo Hugh Masekela announces his death.After a courageous battle against prostate cancer, he died peacefully in Johannesburg, surrounded by his family,” said his family.

South African President Jacob Zuma hailed “a jazz artist, a legendary trumpet player, a defender of culture and a veteran of the liberation struggle” against apartheid.

“He kept alive the flame of freedom by fighting, through his music, against apartheid,” Zuma said. “It’s an immeasurable loss for the world of music and the country as a whole.”

Hugh Masekela fled the apartheid regime in the 1960s and did not return until after Nelson Mandela, the icon of the fight against racism, was released in 1990.

Among his greatest hits are “Bring Him Back Home”, a tribute to the future Nobel Peace Prize, and “Grazing in the Grass”, an instrumental trumpet song punctuated by … a cow bell.

As a teenager, Hugh Masekela received his first trumpet from a priest involved in the fight against apartheid, Trevor Huddlestone. “I took it and I felt like a fish in the water,” he said.

Brought up by his grandmother in the small town of Witbank (north), he explained that it was there, surrounded by coal mines, that his “soul had been swept away by the music”.

– Life of excess –

He grows up during the worst hours of the segregationist regime and dreams of only one thing: exile.

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – LEON NEAL – | South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela, March 12, 2012 in London

“When the plane took off, it was like I was released from enormous weight, as if for twenty-one years I had been constipated,” he recalls crudely in his autobiography “Still Grazing “.

After a stint in London, he studied in New York at the Manhattan School of Music. In the United States, he frequents giants of music, such as Jimmy Hendrix, David Crosby, Marvin Gaye, Dizzy Gillepsie or “Mama Africa”, the South African singer Miriam Makeba, whom he falls in love. Their marriage will last two short years.

He sings oppression and combat. In the title “Stimela”, he pays tribute to black workers who leave by train to the mines. In the very catchy “Thanayi”, he tells of a woman’s struggle to find food.

Hugh Masekela’s life was marked by excesses. “I was hooked on money – when I could find some – 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 In reality, it took me several decades to wake up, “he wrote.

Back on the African continent, he played with the Afrobeat King, Nigerian Fela Kuti, and participated in 1974 in organizing the festival ahead of the historic boxing duel between Mohamed Ali and George Foreman in Kinshasa.

In the 1980s, he built a mobile recording studio in Botswana and toured with Paul Simon for the famous “Graceland” album.

Married four times, he won the “Legend of the Year” award at the MTV Africa Music Awards in 2016 and played for US President Barack Obama that same year.

“Thanks to his timeless music,” Masekela has managed to “lift the soul” of South Africa, greeted his Minister of Culture Nathi Mthethw. “The nation has lost an exceptional musician.”

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