The Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, has paid tribute to the legendary trumpeter and anti-apartheid campaigner Hugh Masekela, who died yesterday (Tuesday) at the age of 78. He was described in one obituary as “one of the world’s finest and most distinctive horn players, whose performing on trumpet and flugelhorn mixed jazz with South African styles and music from across the African continent and diaspora.” But he will also be remembered his 30-year campaign against apartheid during his exile from South Africa.
Masekela was given his first trumpet by Trevor Huddleston, who would go on to become Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, the Primate of the Indian Ocean and a leading anti-apartheid campaigner. At the time, he was a teacher at the St Peter’s School where Masekela was a troublesome student. Masekela told him that he would behave if he was given a trumpet. Huddleston not only bought the trumpet, but also persuaded a Salvation Army trumpeter to teach him. He would go on to become one of the world’s leading jazz musicians.
But his support for the anti-apartheid movement brought him to the attention of the South African authorities and a year after the Sharpeville Massacre, Masekela was forced into exile, moving first to the UK, before going onto the US and then other countries in Africa. He returned to South Africa following the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990; and continued writing and performing songs which spoke of social justice and reconciliation.
“On behalf of the Anglican Church, and on my own behalf, I extend our condolences to Hugh Masekela’s nearest and dearest family and friends,” Archbishop Thabo said. “Hugh Masekela’s legacy is that of an inter-generational institution, someone who across generation after generation articulated our people’s experiences and reflected our evolving history through music.
“His songs of migration in particular are a testimony to history as we lived it. In that history there was laughter and there was pain, but it provided the fuel we needed to help us overcome adversity and power the struggle for human liberation.
“Not only did he help us, by his inexhaustible creativity and his timeless genius, not to forget the past – he also inspired us not to give up imagining the possibility of us becoming better people who can build a better world to live in.
“His collected works will remain a well from which future generations can draw to quench their thirst for a uplifting message and an enriching energy to carry themselves to greater heights.”
Archbishop Thabo, the Primate of Southern Africa, added: “It was through Father Trevor Huddleston that he received his gift of a trumpet, and he did not disappoint. The church is thankful not only for his life but also for having been able to use his talent to the full.
“I speak for many when I say he will be dearly missed. May his soul rest in peace and rise in glory.”