In January 2018 the world lost a giant with the passing of South African multi-instrumentalist and composer Hugh Masekela. For over 5 decades Masekela’s music lovingly reminded us to lend our hands to struggle and be assured of our eventual triumph. In Masekela’s trumpet, flugelhorn, compositions and lyrics you can hear the weaving of Pan-African political philosophies, musical traditions, and the spirit of a people immersed in a struggle to insist on being self-determining.
Although in exile for 30 years from his beloved South Africa, his commitment to toppling apartheid, alerting the world to the situation at home, and singing the story of his homeland never wavered. In songs such as “Stimela (Coal Train)” and “Mace and Grenades” he wailed for those tirelessly facing life’s injustices and hardships. In compositions like “Colonial Man” he put into historical context the current situation and made the case for resistance and knowledge. He was never unsure of where the struggle lay and who needs to rightfully claim victory.
One can also argue that his greatest gift to the world was the ability to capture the joy and adventure of being fully human in the midst of troubling times. Compositions such as “Grazing in the Grass”, “Market Place”, or more recent releases such as “Makoti” brimmed with the spirit of life. He constantly celebrated the possibilities of humanity and understood the need for laughter and release. To see him perform live was a transformative experience.
Hugh Masekela’s message of resistance, solidarity, African sovereignty, service and love is one we desperately need today. Although gone in the physical form, he left us with many gems that serve to strengthen, ground and remind us (to cop a phrase from Mike Franti/Spearhead) to “stay human”.
Send Me – Hugh Masekela