Legendary South African Jazz maestro, singer, composer and connoisseur trumpeter, Hugh Masekela passed away on Tuesday morning sending shockwaves across the world including the landlocked, diamond and beef country, Botswana. By the time of his death at the age of 78 – almost 30 years after the fall of white minority rule (Apartheid) – he was revered as South Africa’s Father of Jazz. Ramapolo Hugh Masekela was born on 4 April 1939 in KwaGuqa Township, 100km east of the capital, Pretoria. Masekela died after a decade-long fight with cancer, according to a statement from his family on Tuesday (January 23rd).
Often called the “Father of South African jazz,” Masekela, affectionately known as “Bra Hugh,” died in Johannesburg after what his family said was a “protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer.” We are equally saddened by Bra Hugh’s untimely demise, a musical legend who had made Botswana his second home courtesy of his pleasant-sounding ingenuity.
The last time we saw Bra Hugh perform albeit frail and showing signs of being indisposed was at the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, Gauteng (South Africa) during the inaugural #DStv Mzansi Viewers’ Choice Awards where the cream of Mzanzi’s entertainment industry had turned up in large numbers (August 26, 2017).
This is where Masekela, was honoured with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” which was handed to him by M-Net Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Yolisa Phahle on the same night of the DStv Mzansi Viewers’ Choice Awards.
However, the last show Bra Hugh did in Gaborone, Botswana was at the customary Mascom Live Sessions at Botswana Craft alongside Botswana’s legendary Jazz maestro, Socca Moruakgomo in April 2015, a year after performing and launching the maiden Hamptons Jazz Festival in 2014.
#BotswanaUnplugged spoke to a few notable Botswana individuals and musicians who have crossed paths with the legendary Bra Hugh, to pay homage to the legendary jazz maestro…
OLLIE GROTH – Botswana Craft Marketing – Director/Owner
“Botswana Craft had the pleasure to host Bra Hugh Masekela several times
for lunch in our courtyard restaurant and he also performed twice at the
Mascom Live Sessions, once in April 2011 when we first started the Live Sessions and then again in April 2015 with Socca Moruakgomo and both shows were sold out. It was always a pleasure hosting Bra Hugh as he was a mentor in African
heritage and Black consciousness. Bra Hugh would always encourage us to
be proud of our heritage and culture, he would reprimand those who had
weaves and foreign hair pieces saying we should be proud of our own looks
and hair! Bra Hugh was a joyful person who joked with all the staff, before going on
stage he would do Tai-Chi and he said that was how he kept fit and strong. His music will always be a part of our culture and we thank him for the time
and energy he shared with us and our nation since the early 1980s. May His Soul in peace, our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
NNUNU RAMOGOTSI – Jazz Songstress
“Bra Hugh Masekela was an icon, a legend, a mentor and our Father in the musical industry. He really paved way for so many musicians around the world, myself included. When I was growing up in Lobatse, I found my parents listening to his music together with the likes of his former wife, the late Miriam Makeba. It’s no surprise that I am one of Botswana’s most celebrated Jazz artists right now. It is simply because of the musical love that was instilled into me from as far back as those years of Bra Hugh. I remember when I was still a backing vocalist for Ndingo Johwa a decade ago, which also gave me a chance to be a backing vocalist for Bra Hugh during one of his events here in Gaborone. That was the first time I saw him live. The last time I saw him was when we shared the stage at the Hamptons Jazz Festival in 2015, something which I will cherish for the rest of life. May your soul rest in eternal peace Bra Hugh. Your legacy will live on forever and we guarantee to continue where you left off.”
MCJON MOSENENE – Celebrity Chef, Avid Jazz connoisseur/DJ
Being a chef with special inclination to traditional African cooking and having an unwavering knack for all things Jazz, Mosenene also shared vivid insights regarding Bra Hugh’s illustrious music career.
“What I will always remember about Bra Hugh is when he was in exile here in Botswana, his unrelenting passion to share music with us Batswana. Every other Friday afternoon I would make sure that I hung around the President’s Hotel in the Gaborone Main Mall (which at the time was a hub of social activity for South African exiles). Bra Hugh would stand by the balcony and face the Capitol Cinema square, and softly blow the most amazing melodies while shoppers and government workers milled about their daily business. In most cases he would be in the company of his closest friend and relative, Bra George Phahle who was later and unfortunately killed by the South African apartheid security agents in Broadhurst.
He formed a band called “Kalahari” which comprised of himself on the trumpet, flugelhorn horn and cornet, Bra Jonas Gwangwa on trombone, Uncle John Selolwane on guitar, Banjo Mosele on guitar, Aubrey Oki on bass, Bullie Tsienyane on drums, Tshepo Tshola on vocals and percussions as well as Sonti Mndebele on vocals. Every Sunday, they played at Club 500 which was owned by one flamboyant businessman, Uncle Ben Makobole. My deep knowledge for jazz music and my love for live jazz concerts grew intensely during that era. Those were the 80s. May Bra Hugh’s soul find light in the Lord.”
DEBBIE SMITH – Hampton’s Jazz Festival Co-Founder/Promoter
“The Hamptons Jazz Festival inception was in 2014, and being a big project as it was for two women (with my partner in crime, Starr Khupe Ngwenya) in a male dominated industry, we were very nervous! The first artist to ever be contracted was Hugh Masekela. The event was truly a nightmare as it rained non-stop from evening and we were forced to postpone. Both local and international artists were upset with us. Then we awaited to hear what Bra Hugh would say, and against all odds, he said he was going to come back and do the event again in two weeks’ time! That was the birth of The Hamptons and suddenly all international artists who were reluctant to reschedule followed his command and we rocked. Two weeks later after the disastrous germinal Hamptons, Hugh Masekela was back and the rest became history!”
“My fondest memories was trying to have a picture taken with him at our press conference and he had initially refused because I had blonde hair! Lol. Then I told him I was the owner of the event and I was the one paying his bills. We had a great banter and he covered my hair with his cap, and we took a selfie together unperturbed. I will always and forever cherish him. This year, when we planned the current and 5th annual Hamptons Jazz Festival we had asked the public whom they wanted as the headline act between Hugh and Caiphus & Letta. Yes, of course he emerged a favourite with a small margin as both bands are extremely Hamptonettes’ favourites. However, we were dealt a devastating blow when we made inquiries and we were informed that he was not really well. Hamptons Jazz Festival and the rest of Bra Hugh’s fans worldwide have lost a friend, a legend, a father and the biggest jazz icon in Africa. What’s even scarier is that I read his condolences message to Soares Katumbela’s funeral. I don’t know how you guys cope with funerals but personally I just struggle for days. I hope this won’t affect me with my preparations for the upcoming Hamptons. We will forever remember him! May His Soul Rest In Peace.”
PUNAH GABASIANE – Jazz Songstress
“A true legend has fallen. Bra Hugh had a soft heart for the development of Botswana arts industry. Whenever we met he shared lots of lessons and his musical experiences over the years. I will forever cherish those special moments. What I will always cherish from Bra Hugh was his unremitting spirit of Ubuntu (Botho) as well as wanting to see others develop and reach their peak. May his soul rest in internal peace.”