Love, Learn, and Teach: Remembering the Life of Hugh Masekela

(Photo by Lawrence Sumulong for JALC)

News | Jan, 23rd 2018

One of the truly great photos of jazz shows a scene in Johannesburg in 1956. A number of people have assembled in the background, all looking at an ebullient 17-year-old Hugh Masekela leaping into the air while clutching a trumpet. The day marked a celebration: the trumpet in Bra Hugh’s hand was Louis Armstrong’s trumpet, sent as a gift by Pops to the aspiring musician, and given in the hopes that it would inspire Hugh to continue his studies in the music.

Bra Hugh did that, and so much more. For decades, his sound was all but synonymous with South Africa’s jazz, fusing American hard bop with local styles like mbaqanga, marabi, and majuba into a sound uniquely his own. In songs like “Stimela,” Bra Hugh captured the hardships of apartheid-era South Africa; on “The Boy’s Doin’ It,” he saluted freedom movements throughout the African Diaspora; on “Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela),” he embodied the hope of the anti-apartheid struggle towards a better future. To many listeners around the world, Bra Hugh’s trumpet playing and singing personified the struggle against apartheid, giving voice to a resistance.

Bra Hugh never stopped growing, and albums he recorded post apartheid found him constantly learning new music, celebrating new South African styles like kwaito, and actively participating in the forging of a new identity for the nation. He was fascinated by new talents and musical voices in South Africa, and enamored of the new sounds they created. As many Jazz at Lincoln Center patrons saw in Bra Hugh’s performances, his band always comprised young South African artists whom he tirelessly mentored in finding their unique styles. Indeed, if one looks at the jazz talent of South Africa today, it is impossible not to see the towering influence of Bra Hugh in each and every musician.

Many autograph seekers found that Bra Hugh would often sign CDs and books with the closing “Love, Learn, and Teach.” It is hard to think of somebody who filled those three commands as deeply as Hugh Masekela did.

Written by Seton Hawkins, Director, Education Resources and Public Programming

Inscription from the author's copy of "Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela"

(Photo of Hugh Masekela by Lawrence Sumulong for JALC)

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