News / South Africa

Nica
4 minute read
26 Jan 2018
7:00 pm

Bra Hugh – a lover of life, music, women and heritage

Nica

'If music was the devil, I would need an exorcist,' said the father of South African jazz.

Hugh Masekela. Photo: Hugh Masekela - The Official Site

Throughout Hugh Masekela’s life, the legendary trumpeter worked tirelessly to restore South Africa’s heritage. His goals included enjoying life and the people he shared it with, working to make up for lost time when South Africa’s heritage was compromised during apartheid, and making music that took a stance and eased the soul.

Possessed by music at an early age, as Masekela described it, his talents came with both good and bad repercussions.

Substance Abuse

During an interview with Michel Martin from WAMC radio in the US, Masekela described when he first started drinking.

“I started drinking when I was 13 years old. But I started drinking out of, like, peer pressure because I had the most beautiful voice. And my friends said, man, we can’t hang out with you anymore ‘cause we’re beginning to look at the babes, and here you are, singing in their range. It puts a little damper on us…They said, well, you have to drink and smoke so your voice can get messed up. And then you can sing bass.”

A contemplative Hugh Masekela. Photo: Hugh Masekela - The Official Site

A contemplative Hugh Masekela. Photo: Hugh Masekela – The Official Site

Masekela also explained during the interview that he only got sober at the age of 58. Or, as he described it, “I didn’t get sober. I stopped killing myself.”

Masekela’s decision to stop drinking prompted him to start an organisation that assists other artists struggling with addiction. The Musicians and Artists’ Assistance Programme of South Africa (MAAPSA) was created more than 12 years ago. The organisation boasts a 70% successful recovery rate, and, according to Bra Hugh, has had “a significant impact over the years in providing different kinds of support to musicians and others in need”.

Hugh Masekela loved to perform. Photo: Hugh Masekela - The Official Site

Hugh Masekela loved to perform. Photo: Hugh Masekela – The Official Site

Relationships and Women

Being a musical legend, Masekela knew that this would inevitably come with interests from women.

His first marriage was to another South African music icon – the late Miriam Makeba, also known as ‘Mama Africa’.

Makeba and Masekela were both prominent voices during the anti-apartheid movement, using their music as vehicles for change, albeit from remote locations due to both being exiled for a number of decades.

Hugh Masekela with Miriam Makeba and Paul Simon in 1987. Photo: Twitter

Hugh Masekela with Miriam Makeba and Paul Simon in 1987. Photo: Twitter

However, the union between Mama Africa and the father of South African jazz was not to last. They married in 1964 and divorced in 1966.

Masekela went on to marry Chris Calloway, the daughter of American jazz singer and bandleader Cabell ‘Cab’ Calloway, Jabu Mbatha and Elinam Cofie. Cofie, originally from Ghana, divorced Masekela after nearly ten years of marriage in 2013, saying that she was constantly alone at home while Masekela was touring.

Masekela has a son, Selema ‘Sal’ Mabena Masekela, whose mother is of Haitian descent. Sal was raised in Staten Island, New York and California.

Hugh and his son, Sal Masekela. Photo: Hugh Masekela - The Official Site

Hugh and his son, Sal Masekela. Photo: Hugh Masekela – The Official Site

Masekela was a charming, charismatic character. Arguably the only infamous view that Bra Hugh had on women involved his war on weaves, extensions and chemically straightened hair on black women.

“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.”

As a result, during a ceremony at Rhodes University, where Masekela was receiving an honorary PhD, he made it clear that he was not joking when he refused to take pictures with women who didn’t have natural hair.

His views on the youth’s declining sense of heritage were met with mixed reactions, but Masekela stood his ground.

Kuli Roberts with Hugh Masekela. Photo: Instagram.

Kuli Roberts with Hugh Masekela. Photo: Instagram.

His life was exciting, difficult, productive and honest, and he will be remembered as such by countless people who this week mourned his passing.

Sources: Hugh Masekela Official Site, News24, Arts Link website, The Citizen

‘I’m sharing my dad with you, SA’

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