'LET THE MUSIC PLAY ON'

ICON: Hugh Masekela performing during the Maapsa Benefit concert at Carnival City, where he also celebrated his 70th birthday. 30/03/2009. Pic. Bafana Mahlangu. © Sowetan.
ICON: Hugh Masekela performing during the Maapsa Benefit concert at Carnival City, where he also celebrated his 70th birthday. 30/03/2009. Pic. Bafana Mahlangu. © Sowetan.

Jazz icon Hugh Masekela is still mixing politics and music, warning that South Africa could lose the musical magic conjured up during the creative explosion under apartheid.

Jazz icon Hugh Masekela is still mixing politics and music, warning that South Africa could lose the musical magic conjured up during the creative explosion under apartheid.

Brashly outspoken, the musician is far from frail after turning 70 this weekend with a performance at Africa's biggest jazz festival in Cape Town.

The trumpeter longs for the kaleidoscope of music, art and culture which thrived in segregated communities under the grim days of minority white rule, where dissatisfaction bred artists with a message.

Masekela remembers it as a period of carnivals, singing, churches, marching bands and orchestras ... a time when people had entertainment all weekend.

"If all those things are not brought back into our lives our kids will say 'they say we used to be Africans', and that day is coming and it is very sad," Masekela told reporters in Cape Town.

With other South African musicians of the era, Masekela played a key role in inspiring the musical fight against apartheid.

"South African music affected the world because we are the people who sing about the quality of our life, not like in the US where they sing about love. In Africa politicians fear the musical commentary," Masekela said.

In a career spanning some 50 years, the Grammy-nominated musician, who spent much of his life in exile, claims he has been "obsessed" and "victimised" by music, finding inspiration anywhere and everywhere.

At "one hell of a" birthday party in 1971, while dancing intimately with a very beautiful woman, he remembers rushing off to the nearest piano where he started singing his hit Stimela.

At another time, he received a letter of encouragement from Nelson Mandela, sent from prison, which brought tears to his eye and saw Bring back Nelson Mandela spill from him.

As Masekela rushed off to lunch with Mandela, he said his career highlight is "coming home" after all the years in exile. - Sapa-AFP

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