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Bra Hugh left mark on world stage

The late Hugh Masekela died on Tuesday at the age of 78.
The late Hugh Masekela died on Tuesday at the age of 78.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

Hugh Masekela put up a gallant fight against prostate cancer in the last few months.

His close friend Peter Tladi, founder of Joy of Jazz, said the music legend spent time in the hospital ward and would then be discharged to go back home, only to return to the hospital.

Masekela died yesterday morning surrounded by his family.

Peter Tladi arrives at legendary jazz musician Hugh Masekela's home in Johannesburg.
Peter Tladi arrives at legendary jazz musician Hugh Masekela's home in Johannesburg.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

He announced in October that he was battling cancer and had been under treatment since 2008 when doctors discovered a small "speck" on his bladder.

He said the treatment had appeared to be successful but in March 2016 he had to undergo surgery as the cancer had spread. Another tumour was discovered last September.

Outside Masekela's home in Killarney, Johannesburg, friends and public figures came to pay their respects.

Masekela's friend and business partner James Ngcobo said: "I am deeply hurt. Bra Hugh was a mentor to me and he taught me so much around storytelling and the heart you put into storytelling. He taught me so much about humanity.

"You could sit with him and for a while he will not be Bra Hugh the musician, he will be the man who is a lover of life and Africa and its heritage stories. The biggest thing that I learnt from him is to be humble because that is where
everything started for him."

The pair owned theatre production company Sibojama.

"We created Songs of Migration with Bra Hugh that we took from here to around the world. He composed music for The Coloured Museum and there isn't a project that had music that I never called on Bra Hugh to come and help guide me. There were projects in the pipeline that we were going to do," he added.

James Ngcobo.
James Ngcobo.

Theatre director and creator of hit musical Sarafina!, Mbongeni Ngema, said: "Hugh was a lovely person with immense talent. I remember two weeks ago when I last spoke to him it was as though I am the one affected by the fact that he was sick and he felt bad for me.

"He was cracking jokes, laughing and appeared happy like he used to in the olden days when we used to work together. It is a great loss for the country and the world. May his soul rest in peace."

Other artists who made their way to Masekela's home yesterday included Jonas Gwangwa, Letta Mbulu,
Caiphus Semenya, Mandla Langa and old-time friend Lucky Radebe.

Born Hugh Ramapolo Masekela in KwaGuqa, Emalahleni, on April 4 1939, Masekela showed signs of musical greatness from a young age.

His life changed when Struggle hero Father Trevor Huddleston presented him with a trumpet. After reaching the heights of fame in South Africa, Masekela went into exile in the US.

Under the guidance of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, Masekela developed his unique style, feeding off African rather than American influences. His 1963 debut album was titled Trumpet Africaine.

In 1968 he released his seminal instrumental single Grazin' in the Grass, which reached the number one spot on the American pop charts and was a worldwide hit, launching him on the international stage.

He was part of the jazz cool set that included Miles Davis, Harry Belafonte, Fela Kuti, Marvin Gaye, Herb Alpert, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.

He returned to South Africa in 1990 following the unbanning of liberation movements. He continued to release new music with No Borders released last year.

South African music legend Hugh Masekela passed away at the age of 78. TimesLIVE shares the last interview with him and reflects on his life.

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