Thandiswa Mazwai is remembering her late mentor Bra Hugh in song

Image: Veli Nhlapo

Mazwai was a brazen 14-year-old leading the school choir when she met her mentor and long-time friend Masekela. Mazwai first shared a stage with the late trumpeter in her teens when her school choir did backup vocals at one of the late trumpeter’s performances.

Since then, they’ve shared a stage several times and even created sonic memories that will live on forever like Thanayi and Ingoma. Although Masekela drew his last breath on January 23 2018, his spirit lives on and he will be remembered in song and dance at the annual Hugh Masekela Heritage Festival on Saturday.

The festival is headlined by Mazwai and The Hugh Masekela Band, Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse, Madala Kunene and other astounding artists. Ahead of Mazwai’s tribute performance to ‘Uncle Hugh’, she spoke to us about what the late musician’s legacy means to her.

What is your fondest memory of Bra Hugh?

Uncle Hugh was all about creating special moments. He used to say he is the luxury granddad. Every special memory has a meal, exceptional wine and incredible conversation.

I guess my fondest memory would have to be when I met him at the age of 14. What is the most important lesson you've learnt from Bra Hugh? The most important lesson I learnt from Bra Hugh was to keep my humour and humility, to never take myself too seriously and to keep my head level. I’m still on the journey towards all these lessons.

You met Bra Hugh when you were a teen, how has your relationship with him evolved from those early days to when he drew his last breath?

As I got older I started attending his shows at the club he used to have in Yeoville and I sort of became one of those fans you recognise in the audience because they are always there. Once I started making music his mentorship and friendship became more and more invaluable. He gave the best advice and had a way of making the insurmountable seem so small. He was one of my dearest friends and someone I will cherish for all the days of my life.

If he were still alive, what do you think he would make of the recurring xenophobic attacks?

Uncle Hugh was a Pan-African through and through. He sang in many African languages and always represented the brotherhood of all Africa. He was also someone that had great respect and love for all human being as so I’m certain he would be saddened by the black-on-black violence. The truth is that our people are suffering and the xenophobia in South Africa is an indictment on all African governments for failing their people.

How do you aim to keep Bra Hugh's legacy alive?

By playing his music, uplifting young upcoming musicians as he did for so many of us and by sharing his story.

What lessons do you think upcoming musicians can learn from Bra Hugh's illustrious career?

They can learn to be authentic to their home sound and to collaborate with other Africans.

What other projects are you currently working on?

Bongo Maffin is releasing a new album on the 29th of November and I’m working on a new album next year.

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