Lore Watterson is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Creative Feel Magazine
Ramapolo Hugh Masekela
4 April 1939 – 23 January 2018
This year has started on a very sombre note. We had to say goodbye to Keorapetse Kgositsile, South Africa’s only poet laureate, as well as the landscape painter Walter Meyer in this our first issue of 2018.
As we went to print, we heard that Hugh Masekela passed away. What sad news. I feel that with his passing, a whole era of South African music has come to an end. I was fortunate enough to get to know him rather well and my memories are full of laughter and his witty comments. I first saw him at the Homecoming concerts together with other great returning exiles like his ex-wife, Miriam Makeba. Both had left South Africa in 1959 to join the cast of Todd Matshikiza’s all-African jazz opera, King Kong, in London and did not return until Mandela walked out of prison – an event anticipated in Masekela’s anti-apartheid anthem ‘Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela)’ (1986), which had been a rallying cry around the world.
When I interviewed him about his autobiography, Still Grazing, he was the first to admit that he ‘lived a rich and relentless life. Infused with love and loss, drugs, exile and of course with music..’ It was Hugh Masekela who, as a pioneer of Afro-Jazz, had brought the voice and spirit of Africa to the west.
Creative Feel has featured this great man several times and, most recently, with this stunning cover image by Brett Rubin in March 2016. During his cover interview, he told us how music always came first for him:
‘When I went into music there was no industry. I only did music because I love music,’ Masekela said. He had then been a musician for 71 years and coolly acknowledged that he began when he was just an infant. There was no beginning and no end for him. He laughed as he shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘I think I was bewitched, as a child, with music.
So when you’re bewitched you don’t need a source of energy. Uloyiwe, uloyiwe – bakuthakathile! (You’re bewitched, you’re bewitched – they’ve bewitched you!),’ he laughed with the fullness of a melody. Music captured him before he could remember. For Masekela, ‘it all comes from music.’
He was involved in a variety of artistic outputs, as he had ventured into theatre, television and other forms and he confidently stated that he was ready for anything. Stemming from music, he had found that ‘art is universal’ in the way that it opens itself up to other forms of creativity. He also believed in art as a gift from nature that taps into a greater sense of being; it is limitless.
When asked about greatness, he responded: ‘If you only want to achieve human things and you think that you are beyond nature and you don’t realise that you are a minuscule part of nature, you already have diminished your potential.’ He did not perceive himself as a great artist; merely a very lucky man.
It is difficult to imagine that an icon of South African jazz and history, who has received a number of Lifetime Achievement awards, several honorary doctorates, and worked with the most renowned names of jazz worldwide, did not conceive of himself as great.
Go well, Hugh Masekela, a legend who is mourned today here at home and around the world.