Five books in honour of Hugh Masekela

On Saturday, 22nd October 2016, I sat in the audience at the MTV Music awards otherwise known as the MAMAS at the TicketPro Dome in Johannesburg and watched as legendary South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela received a lifetime achievement award. I was mesmerized and was beyond excited to finally watch live, a musical genius of our time. He did a rap piece and keeping with the modern times, delivered it as part music and part poetry with the theme of winning. Typical of him and his many years of activism, Mr Masekela urged Africans in his acceptance speech to restore our heritage. He urged us all especially creatives to re-learn and reteach our own language to our people and the rest of the world. He sounded a note of caution, if we don’t, he continued, in a couple of years’ time our children will be saying we used to be Africans. It was profound and timely. Masekela died last week of prostate cancer at the age of 78 and the whole world has been paying tribute to a man who put South African music on the map, married some of the world’s most interesting women and fought apartheid from exile. Aside from being exiled, living and performing first in England and finally settling in the United States, Masekela faced his demons of drugs and alcohol and finally found peace in his home, returning home to South Africa after Mandela became President. As the world continues to talk about his legacy and having been lucky enough to watch what was considered his final performance, it is fitting to pay him tribute in these four books and a Newspaper article about his life, his associates and his friends.


1) Still grazing, the musical journey of Hugh Masekela written by Hugh Masekela and Michael Cheers. This is an autobiographical book about the legendary musician. Masekela, a giant of Jazz and a pioneer in bringing the voice and spirit of Africa to the West writes about his amazing career. He fell into the raucous soul of 60’s America and was adopted by American musical greats to include Dizzy Gillespie. The book describes his journey into exile, his great and not so great performances and his hunger for home as an exile. This book also talks about his love life and his fight to discredit and destroy apartheid from the outside. His disagreement with boxing promoter Don King over Mohammed Ali’s rumble in the jungle fight, his being on the wrong side of revolutions all over West Africa and his battle with alcohol are all well captured in this book that opens up about the legend’s life. A “must have” not only for fans of Hugh Masekela but for Jazz historians and enthusiasts all over the world.

2)  Makeba: My Story by Miriam Makeba. This is the autobiography of the legendary South African singer and political activist, Miriam Makeba. The story of Hugh Masekela cannot be told without Miriam Makeba. This is because she was married to him. According to the Boston Herald, it is hard to find someone who is not moved by Miriam’s story. A cry of the heart and in spite of her many sorrows, she tells her story with such grace which is characteristic of the strength and refinement of her character. It is hard to tell Makeba’s life story without Masekela in it.


3) Jazz, popular music and politics in South Africa by Gwen Ansel. This book introduced by Abdullahi Ibrahim gives out such a great overview of the global influence of Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba and other African great musicians and the growth of resistance music and how jazz became a key part of South Africa’s struggles in Soweto blues. Interviews with hundreds of musicians forms the tapestry of this incredible book.

4) Interview with South African Newspaper City Press in October 2016, Masekela says his last album “No borders” was meant to portray his innermost feelings.” I don’t believe in borders because we did not create them. I just wanted to do an interesting diaspora kind of feel so people can see that we are all the same people.”

5) Any book on Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Not only did Hugh and Fela perform, they were friends and Hugh was influenced in several ways by Fela’s music. Their lives were intertwined in several respects and Hugh had the greatest respect for Fela as Fela did him. In the long run, Hugh also had a good relationship with Fela’s son, Femi and there were many instances where they performed together.


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