'A baobab tree has fallen': jazz great Masekela dies


Hugh Masekela, born near Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1939, was so much more than a musician. But a brilliant musician he was. His trumpet was the sound of rebellion against apartheid in South Africa, every bit as much as Miriam Makeba’s voice.

Like Makeba, Masekela’s work was often uplifting, reflecting the joy of being alive, but tinged with the sadness at oppression and a desire to fight for freedom.

It wasn’t just his music. Masekela was outspoken against apartheid and was forced into exile, in Britain, after the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 when South African police opened fire on a peaceful crowd, killing 69 people including 29 children.

His 1987 hit ‘Bring Him Back Home’ became the anthem for Nelson Mandela's world tour, following his release from prison in 1992. And in 2010 he opened both - the Kick off Concert and the opening ceremony of the World Cup in South Africa.

Speaking about that experience, he said: “The apartheid government split us into groups, but if we are going to reconcile, we must first get out of denial and learn one another's cultures, speak each other's language. Until then, we can't pretend we're a rainbow nation.”

Masekela, a trumpeter known for his jazz funk and Afro-pop vocalist, interspersed with his vocals, played with a wide range of articles from Dizzy Gillespie to Fela Kuti.

He was criticised for breaking the cultural boycott of South Africa when he took part in Paul Simon’s Graceland tour, which visited the apartheid state. But despite this, there is no doubt that Masekela was one of the most well-known figures calling for an end to minority white rule.

Masekela, a vibrant character with a sharp sense of humour and a tendency to pepper his interviews with fruity language, was still performing to sell-out crowds into his 70’s. Describing his passing, South Africa’s arts and culture minister, Nathi Mthethwa, wrote on Twitter: “A baobab tree has fallen, the nation has lost a one of a kind musician.”

He will be mourned today across the world.