South African trumpeter and jazz musician, Hugh Ramopolo Masekela, who died on Tuesday (January 23), aged 78 in Johannesburg after a battle with prostate cancer was truly revered the world over. News of his passing sent rippling shockwaves across the world and tributes from renowned figures alike started pouring in, many vividly remembering a legendary artist whose fiercely political music became instrumental in the liberation of South Africa from the unrelenting clutches of Apartheid.
Having lived in Botswana during his ill-fated banishment years, Bra Hugh enormously played a huge role in the development of Botswana’s music industry where he touched several souls along the way. One such soul is Socca Moruakgomo, a musical legend by all accounts, and below he shares his many encounters with the dearly departed Bra Hugh as his prodigy…
“We first met in 1980 while I was still studying music enlisted at the Botswana Defence Force (BDF). Bra Hugh invited me on stage one Sunday afternoon at Club 500 by No Mathata Shopping Centre to share a song with him and his band dubbed Kalahari. We did a song called ‘Jabu’ which was dedicated to his 2nd wife after Miriam Makeba. The year was 1982 but I remember it like it was just yesterday,” shared Moruakgomo adding that from that moment on they became thick as thieves.
“We became bosom buddies and he would from time to time invite me to his house in Extension 4 for extra trumpet lessons.”
Narrating his tribute after news of Bra Hugh’s untimely demise were made public by his family on Tuesday morning, Moruakgomo acknowledged that the “Father of South African Jazz” humbly taught him ‘All That Jazz.’
“Bra Hugh left Gaborone in 1985 after a raid by The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) where his friend George Phahle and Levy Phahle were unfortunately killed,” added Moruakgomo.
“In 1988 I left the country for the UK. I wanted to establish myself as a musician in London and a friend, Alan Ravenscroft assisted me by paying for studio time where I recorded two songs in London. He also arranged a radio interview for me with BBC BUSH HOUSE FOR AFRICA where my two songs were played on radio and Bra Hugh heard the songs and wondered when did he record these songs? John Selolwane who had come to assist me in the studio told him that the songs didn’t belong to him but rather they were mine, Socca Moruakgomo.”
The Botswana jazz legend said after Bra Hugh heard his two songs, he was so impressed that he telephoned him all the way in Gaborone that evening and congratulated him.
“He told me that Mbongeni Ngema of ‘Stimela sase zola’ fame will call me the next morning because Bra Hugh wanted me to join Sarafina which was due for an European Tour the following year in 1989. Our first stop was Vienna, Austria. We had our first meeting over breakfast in Vienna with Bra Hugh. He was quick to suggest that we should make a record together so that we can see whether people will be able to notice any differences in our trumpet playing.”
“I was fascinated and truly honoured. I told him that I would like to finish my album which I had started recording in London and we agreed to finish it in Paris, France. However, his schedule was very tight but I continued recording whilst on tour with Sarafina. I called him in New York after completing the album in the Hague Holland. We agreed to meet in Gaborone during our two weeks’ break. We met in Gaborone and he suggested that we should go and have lunch at the market place by the station. However, we ended up eating at YWCA. This was in the year 1989.”
Moruakgomo noted that they both discussed the possibilities of recording an album together, and it was only in the year 2002 when the opportunity presented itself.
“I was recording my second album Kalahari when Bra Hugh was also recording in Johannesburg. He agreed on our collaboration and the song dubbed “Missed the flight” from my Kalahari album was born. The inter-trumpet rendition was out of this world.”
Moruakgomo added, “When I was recording ‘Destiny’ in Johannesburg in 2015, I paid him a visit at his apartment in Killarney, Johannesburg. We embraced and discussed our project, which we wanted to involve all presidents of the region, former footballers who played in Europe and great musicians like Salif Keita, Manu Dibango and many more. I had already approached the late President of Botswana Sir Ketumile Masire because we had wanted him to invite former Zambian President, Kenneth Kaunda and former Nigerian president. I also had a meeting with Salif Keita on this and he had given it thumbs up. My last interaction with Bra Hugh was when we shared the stage together at Botswana Craft in 2015. I called him on stage for the song ‘Missed the flight’ and the entire audience ate from our palms. I’m truly saddened by his passing. May his soul rest in peace. I will continue where he left off.”