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RIP Bra Hugh

Updated: Apr 15, 2022

When I heard he'd passed, my heart sank. As with many apartheid-era South African legends, we know their time is coming, yet their transitions are shocking. He was a pillar without whom we could never have imagined living. Yet the moment has come when life must go on without the great and incomparable bra Hugh.

Hugh Masekela was born in Emalahleni on the 4th of April in 1939. Inspired by American movies and musicians like Louis Armstrong (whom he would later meet), Miles Davis, and Bessie Smith, he learned to play music as a youth with the help of apartheid activist Archbishop Trevor Huddleston.

In his early years, he played with other South African greats like Zakes Nkosi and Kippie Moeketsi. He formed the iconic Jazz Epistles with Abdullah Ibrahim (then known as Dollar Brand) among others. He left the country after the 1960 Sharpville Massacre and the increasing severity of the apartheid regime.

With the help of Miriam Makeba and her New York cronies including Harry Belafonte, Hugh emigrated to study and play music in New York. Makeba and Masekela worked together extensively and later married. They divorced in 1966 and Hugh moved to Los Angeles where his career thrived.

With hit songs like Soweto Blues, Stimela, and Grazing in the Grass, he brought South African music to the world and then back again. Today he is a household name and rightly so. He has made an impression on our music and politics and as the years go by, he will always be known as the eternal father of South African Jazz.


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