News / South Africa

Gosebo Mathope
3 minute read
24 Jan 2018
4:14 pm

Bra Hugh Masekela’s infamous war on weaves

Gosebo Mathope

He received a standing ovation when conferred with an honorary PhD at Rhodes, but his firm position on weaves in his speech provoked the audience.

Kuli Roberts with Hugh Masekela. Intagram.

One of the well-known facts about the late jazz maestro Hugh Masekela is that he hated weaves, extensions and chemically straightened hair so much he refused to take pictures with black women who didn’t wear “natural” hair.

In an interview with The Sowetan in 2015, he is quoted as having said: “As someone who runs a foundation that seeks to restore culture and identity, I refused to take photos with people with weaves. And I tell them that myself.”

Bra Hugh initially made no exceptions on this policy. So when Dineo Ranaka bumped into the holder of an honorary doctorate from Rhodes University in March 2017, TV personality and radio personality Ranaka made a plan.

East Coast Radio reported at the time that she quickly wrapped a ‘blankie’ around her head to cover up her synthetic hair and explained in an Instagram post: “All I had in my possession was a blankie, and I was very happy to wrap my hair in it for a photograph with him! It’s a true story ladies – Bra Hugh will not be photographed with any artificial or straightened hair!! Lol!”

Ranaka was unfazed. “Most are offended by this, however, I’ve learnt to not let the opinions or preferences of others kill my joy. Respecting each other’s differences and being open to meet one another halfway makes life and it’s precious moments all the more pleasurable – I refuse to let ego rob me of a moment to smile and be merry! We laughed a lot in this moment – he’s a lovely man!”

READ MORE: Dineo Ranaka hides weave to take pic with ‘lovely’ Hugh Masekela

City Press reported in 2015 that the legendary trumpeter caused a stir at Rhodes University when he refused to take pictures with girls donning weaves or hair extensions.

“You’re lucky that you were sneaky enough to have him take a picture of you next to me, otherwise I would have refused. I don’t take pictures with girls who have your kind of hair,” Masekela told a student who had taken a picture with him, according to student journalist Sanele Ntshingana.

At a press conference at the institution later during the same day, during the time he was conferred with his fourth honorary Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) for his contributions to the arts, the muso would not let the weave issue rest.

“We spend about a billion rand on other people’s hair each year. I don’t even know where to begin on this issue,” said Masekela.

He received a standing ovation after delivering an address that focused on his disdain for the youth’s dwindling sense of heritage. He addressed issues such as indigenous languages, storytelling and music, but his position on hair was the most provocative.

Masekela was described by some audience members as being “irritable” and “condescending”, while others appreciated his direct approach. On the subject of student activism and the removal of colonial statues, Masekela was dismissive, saying the youth should focus on “bigger problems”, such as poverty, inequality and crime.

But in life, one usually does make exception, and the icon had his arm twisted by another radio and TV personality Kuli Roberts. Robert posted pictures of herself with the musician wearing a weave in April 2017. Bra Hugh was a guest on a morning show Roberts co-presented with industry veteran Bob Mabena.

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