When the news of Bro Hugh Masekela‘s death came to me through a high school friend, I remembered so vividly, the very first time I ever heard his music. Through a collection a cousin brother of mine possessed that was the most safe guarded part of his house. To play one of his albums was a not as easy, it desired a certain kind of patience and persuasion that even at times could not guarantee you success.
And like a close relative, the news came to me as if I had a major part to play in the arrangement of his funeral because my old time friend knew that we had a relationship through music, with Hugh Masekela, just like the many fans in the world that adored him as a brother.
Bro Hugh’s influence in the Jazz scene is one that was been cultivated from an early age and as he grew, the rewards were the best ever imagined by him or his worldwide fans.
The jazz hit maker could have just picked up a trumpet as a ticket out of the segregation during his time as a young man but instead he made the flugelhorn synonymous with him and jazz music as if it was his own sound.
To have been born in a world where he played a part in spreading the gospel of Afro Jazz and remain at the pinnacle, becoming an example of the world fusion mode is something that we must applaud and never to take for granted. His involvement in the music industry together with other greats such Miriam Makeba could easily be the reason why I have so much love for all kinds of music, jazz included.
He made the fusion of jazz compositions and great story telling an easier way to consume jazz, which at one time could have easily been regarded as boring music.
With an almost four generation gap between me and him, Bro Hugh’s music bridged the current times and of the time when he grew up. He remained relevant and a perfect example of what a musician should be today, a reflection of society and a voice to those without. A trait barely seen from an artist within a genre that is largely under rated and not popularised.
Jazz still remains in the periphery of other genres despite being amongst the oldest and Hugh Masekela’s influence on Jazz was as Michael Jackson was to Pop and Luciano Pavarotti was to Opera. He will be a name largely attached to a conversation about jazz just you would about Rock n Roll and Led Zeppelin.
I can sit and write to eternity about his hits and how he was such an important part of jazz. From sharing the stage with Louis Reitenor, Abdullah Ibrahim, Fela Kuti, Oliver Mtukudzi and being an anti-apartheid, political activist but that all will be rhetoric as thousands of true and kind words have been printed and posted online since his passing away on Tuesday the 23th after a battle with cancer but that is not my part as his young brother.
Instead to me he represents what I wanted him to be, all he was and nothing less.
‘Everything must change, nothing lasts forever’ are lyrics he sang in his song Change in in his 2002 album called Time. He could have not represented my thoughts better than what he did on this song. He told the people what they wanted to hear and very scared to speak about. He sang about the ills Africa faced, mostly from her leadership which refused to give up power and offer others a chance. He became the ultimate leader, one who was not scared of his position in society to address the ills the continent was knee deep in.
As time would have it, a year after Robert Mugabe was ousted out of power, Hugh left us as if to say, my work here is done. Indeed ‘Nothing lasts forever’!
As we pay homage to a musician who defied social standings to become a household name that will forever be imprinted in our hearts and musical psyche.
I will always wonder why his musically inclined relationship with mama Miriam Makeba broke apart and why his was not a cancer that we could detect earlier and get rid off but then again, if he lived through his music as I would like to believe, he knew the time would come where he would have to leave his huge family and play his music amongst the heavenly bodies.
Masekela’s musical journey is one that many would have loved to live but I fear, in the hands of anyone else other than him, it would have been easily lost. There is too much distractions for a musician in the world and it seems Bro Hugh cut through them all like a hot knife on butter. He chose to remain focused on producing a sound distinctively synonymous to him and no one else.
Today, almost seven decades later, he stood by this style and fused it with the various experiences he had in life within a career that saw him perform in many countries and amongst great musical icons the world has ever seen or heard.
Masekela album’s span more than 40 and his last one , No Borders, in 2016 brought him many awards and probably one of his biggest in his career, the gold category within the Order of Ikhamanga, The highest ever award that can be given to a South African in recognition to works of art.
He will forever be remembered as a great music writer, vocalist, trumpet player, Afro Jazz pioneer and amongst all the titles that will ever stick, he remains our big brother.
Hugh Ramapolo Masekela musician and activist, born 4 April 1939 and died 23 January 2018.