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Monday, September 22, 2014

African Musician Hugh Masekela: 20 Years of Freedom

Hugh Masekela is a world-renowned musician and political leader who released over 40 albums. Masekela musical style was influenced by Miles Davis. Masekela performed at the Monterey Pop Festival alongside The Who. U2 front-man Bono said playing with Masekela was one of the highlights of his career.


Hugh Masekela was born 75 years ago in the town of Witbank, South Africa in 1939. Masekela began to hone his, now signature, Afro-Jazz sound in the late 1950s. In 1960, at the age of 21 he left South Africa to begin what would be 30 years in exile from the land of his birth.

Hugh Masekela world-renowned musician and political leader photo by afromusing
On arrival in New York he enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music. This coincided with a golden era of jazz music and the young Hugh Masekela immersed himself in the New York jazz scene where nightly he watched greats like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus and Max Roach. Under the tutelage of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, Hugh was encouraged to develop his own unique style, feeding off African rather than American influences – his debut album, released in 1963, was entitled Trumpet Africaine.

In 1967 Hugh performed at the Monterey Pop Festival alongside Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, The Who and Jimi Hendrix. In 1968, his instrumental single ‘Grazin’ in the Grass’ went to Number One on the American pop charts and was a worldwide smash, elevating Hugh onto the international stage. In 1990 Hugh returned home, following the unbanning of the ANC and the release of Nelson Mandela – an event anticipated in Hugh’s anti-apartheid anthem ‘Bring Home Nelson Mandela’ (1986) which had been a rallying cry around the world. 

In June 2010 Masekela opened the FIFA Soccer World Cup Kick-Off Concert to a global audience and performed at the event’s Opening Ceremony in Soweto’s Soccer City. The US Virgin Islands proclaimed ‘Hugh Masekela Day’ in March 2011, not long after Hugh joined U2 on stage during the Johannesburg leg of their 360 World Tour. U2 front-man Bono described meeting and playing with Hugh as one of the highlights of his career.


According to his biography, Masekela is currently using his global reach to spread the word about heritage restoration in Africa – a topic that remains very close to his heart. Masekela says “My biggest obsession is to show Africans and the world who the people of Africa really are,” Masekela confides – and it’s this commitment to his home continent that has propelled him forward since he first began playing the trumpet.

February and March 2015, South African musical legends Hugh Masekela and Vusi Mahlesela embarked on a North American musical tour, 20 Years of Freedom. The tour celebrated the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s social equality and the end of apartheid.

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