Photo courtesy of Detroit Metro Times / Matt Ziolkowski
CAIRO - January 24: Hugh Masekela, renowned and celebrated South African trumpeter and musician, died on Tuesday. His title as the “father of South African jazz” is not only derived from his musical achievements, but also from his legacy as an important anti-apartheid figure and a symbol for hope and resistance.
Masekela’s most famous song is “Soweto Blues”, a protest song written about the Soweto uprising in June 1976. The Soweto uprising took place in response to the apartheid government’s decision to officially use Afrikaans, the colonizers’ language, as the official school language of instruction in schools. The song deals with the grief, sorrow, struggles and hopes of those who died in the uprising at the hands of the police.
“Soweto Blues” was sung by internationally celebrated late musician Miriam Makeba, also known as Mama Africa. The two legendary musicians are still remembered for their strong and inspirational careers and efforts to resist apartheid, and the song is considered to be one of the biggest and most significant anti-apartheid songs.
Masekela’s career and life was entirely shaped by his political views and resistance. His music and songs are classified as “afro-jazz”, a specific genre that represents the artistic integrity and nature of black and African resistance. Though he fought against apartheid with his music performances, Masekela also participated in protests and demonstrations against the apartheid government.
He left South Africa following a bloody attack on African protesters in Sharpeville to fight for South African freedom from the outside. In an account from the Sunday Times archives, Masekela explains that he “spends the next 25 years fighting as hard as [he] could for South Africa’s liberation,” as he was then officially in exile, only returning in 1990 after the release of Nelson Mandela.
Throughout his life, Masekela was involved in a number of initiatives and projects to raise funds and awareness for the people of South Africa, and he later founded the Musicians and Artists’ Assistance Program of South Africa to provide help for drug addicts and alcoholics.
In a statement issued by the South African government, President Jacob Zuma mourns the loss of the musician: “Mr. Masekela was one of the pioneers of jazz music in South Africa whose talent was recognized and honored internationally over many years. He kept the torch of freedom alive globally, fighting apartheid through his music and mobilizing international support for the struggle for liberation and raising awareness of the evils of apartheid.”
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