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Hugh Masekela; The Award-Winning Jazz Maestro

Hugh Masekela

He is a Grammy award nominee. He has also received the  African Music Legend award at the Ghana Music Awards in 2007, Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2005 Channel O Music Video Awards, the International Award of the Year at the 2002 BBC Radio Jazz Awards, and he was nominated for Broadway’s 1988 Tony Award as Best Score (Musical), with music and lyrics collaborator Mbongeni Ngema, for ‘Sarafina’!

Hugh Masekela has lived a long and exciting life, and is surely the world’s most popular jazz musician. He has travelled across continents and made music with the world’s biggest superstars. He has collaborated with West and Central African musicians and done interpretations of songs composed by Jorge Ben, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Caiphus Semenya, Jonas Gwangwa, Dorothy Masuka, Miriam Makeba, Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi and Fela Kuti. Hugh Masekela has written international hits and has sold several million CDs. His ‘Grazing in the Grass’ song is known to have topped the ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ by the Rolling Stones in the US charts. Another very popular song of Hugh Masekela called ‘Bring Him Back Home’ was the anthem for Nelson Mandala’s world tour following his release from prison.

Born in the town of Witbank, South Africa in April 1939, Hugh Masekela is a world-renowned flugelhornist, trumpeter, bandleader, composer, and singer. Growing up in apartheid South Africa did nothing to quench his free spirit, and at the age of 14, he was already blowing into a borrowed trumpet. Exiled from his country in 1960 at the age of 21, Hugh turned his disadvantage into a huge advantage by honing his skills, enrolling at the Manhattan School of Music in New York and learning from jazz greats in the US like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong.


Hugh’s debut album, released in 1963, was entitled Trumpet Africaine; several albums and performances later, Hugh has mellowed with age. The trumpeter’s breakthrough record was his engaging 1965 live performance, ‘The Americanization of Ooga Booga,’ which was produced by the late Tom Wilson, who had also produced Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkle’s debut successes. In 1973, while in Nigeria, Hugh met Fela Kuti, who inspired the trumpeter to explore “afro-beat” music. In 1990 Hugh returned home to South Africa, after the release of Nelson Mandela.

Years of making soulful music followed, and in 2004, Hugh published his compelling autobiography, ‘Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela’ which was co-authored with D. Michael Cheers.

Almost six decades on, Hugh is still a jazz musician to be reckoned with. In 2010 he opened both – the Kick off Concert and the opening ceremony of the World Cup in South Africa. He toured major festivals and venues like the Carnegie Hall, NY and the Royal Festival Hall in London and the Mela Festival in Oslo, where he performed in front of 80 000 people. President Zuma honoured him with the highest order in South Africa: The Order of Ikhamanga in the same year.

Hugh M 3

In 2011 Hugh caused a stir when he joined U2 on stage in one of the biggest concerts U2 ever played in Johannesburg. Hugh also performed at a series of festivals all over the world and played the Hollywood Bowl together with Wynton Marsalis. He was awarded by the Etnosur Festival in Spain and received the WOMEX 11 Award for Artists on 30 October, 2011 in Copenhagen.

His winning streak continued in 2012 with a concert for Her Majesty The Queen in Westminster Abbey. He toured around the globe with his band, opened the WOMAD festival in the UK in its 30th edition and joined Paul Simon on the Graceland Revival tour.

2013 is also packed full for Hugh Masekela who is set to tour with his band. His latest album, ‘Playing @ Work,’ was described as ‘a double disc of innovative, classical, reworked, and freshly composed music that, largely, seems to implore and beckon you on to the dance floor, while,  in typical Masekela manner, it slaps you bang across the heart with his incendiary, and unifying, socially conscious message.’

Hugh Masekela

A writer once noted; “The man with the horn” is a living legend, a genius musician and great performer who is even getting better in his “old days”. And wherever Hugh Masekela plays – no matter if it is a world or jazz or pop festival  – no matter in which part of the world – Hugh Masekela and his great band fascinate their audience as they simply play contemporary South African music at its best.”

Another writer says, “Masekela is timeless. Generations which seemingly have no direct links with each other, have enjoyed and engaged with this artist, remaking not only himself, but his art, while remaining true to his roots: a dynamic African musician for all seasons.”

Hugh has stated concerning his motivation to be more and do more even at 75 years and counting; “My biggest obsession is to show Africans and the world who the people of Africa really are.”

Seems we are all on the same page! Blow on, Masekela!

Jennifer Nkem-Eneanya
Jennifer Nkem-Eneanya
5 Things You Didn't Know About Jennifer in 2015: 1. Her newest collection of short stories, 'The Curious Case of the Small Pikin & Other Stories' is available on 2. She ported from Blogger to WordPress and shares her uncensored thoughts on 3. She is an aspiring Filmmaker & Talk-show Host[ess] 4. She's a mother of two, wife of one and daughter of God. 5. She plans to travel around the world in less than 80 days... Now you Know! Find me on Twitter: @jennynkem

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