Hugh Masekela

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About Hugh Masekela

A towering figure in South African music, trumpeter Hugh Masekela remains the king of South African jazz even years after his death. Born in KwaGuqa in 1939, Masekela performed in the first youth orchestra ever established in his homeland and started leading his own bands while still in his teens. He was soon working with Alfred Herbert’s African Jazz Revue, the Manhattan Brothers, and others. In 1959, his short-lived band The Jazz Epistles (which also included famed pianist Dollar Brand) became the first South African jazz group to release an album. The following year, as apartheid conditions worsened, Masekela relocated to America, studying at the Manhattan School of Music. He released his debut album, Trumpet Africaine, in 1962, introducing a unique mixture of jazz, South African roots, pop, and R&B. Over the years, Masekela would address apartheid and other issues in his work, but his music was also characterized by a joyous feel, most clearly present on his funky 1968 smash “Grazing In The Grass,” a No. 1 hit in America. Masekela’s work would evolve over time, touching on soul, techno-funk, and more; and he would collaborate with the likes of Paul Simon, Herb Alpert, Afrobeat hero Tony Allen, and others. Masekela passed away in 2018 at 78, but the social and musical changes he helped bring about will last forever.

Witbank, South Africa
April 4, 1939
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