Hugh Masekela: I’m still a work in progress

2014-09-10 12:41

He is a 75-year-old jazz great who has shared a stage with Miles Davis and was given a trumpet by Louis Armstrong, but he still says he is a work in progress.

Hugh Masekela, who has a long list of accolades and music awards, said he was unfazed by the honours he has received over the years.

The South African icon was speaking at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto campus at an event hosted in his honour, last night.

The inaugural annual Hugh Masekela lecture brought together more than 100 family members, friends and fans of the legendary musician.

“I don’t think it’s about me. I think this is a vehicle that we are trying to mount, so that we can re-establish a presence of heritage in our lives,” he said after close friend and fellow musician Oliver Mtukudzi gave the keynote address.

“Each time I have met Hugh his music, his status and accolades have grown. But his humility remains the same. He is still the same Hugh Masekela who wasn’t a star,” said Mtukudzi.

The musicians have known each other for more than thirty years. Mtukudzi said it would have been a waste if the trumpeter had failed to do good.

“When you become successful and famous it is very easy to feel like you are better than everyone. And then you forget to give back. But Hugh never forgot to give back,” said Mtukudzi.

Masekela, who sits on the board of a number of charities such as the Lunch Box Fund, which provides packed lunch to needy schoolchildren, has over the years used to his influence to bring attention to worthy causes.

The musician said the spirit of giving was instilled in him from a very young age.

“As young children, at times we didn’t sleep in our beds because my parents would take in children who did not have homes. When we would complain my mother would say we shouldn’t complain because we had a home to return to and they didn’t.”

Also in attendance was Barbara Masekela, the musician’s younger sister and one of the few people who has had a front-row seat to Masekela’s robust life.

“I’m not sure why my brother is getting a lecture in his honour. This should be a roast,” she quipped. She described her brother as a witty and fun-loving man who had indescribable courage.

“The biggest lesson I think that we can all learn from my brother is fearlessness.”

She said this lecture was proof of the strides that South Africans had made in their attitudes towards the arts.

“In my generation, the people who were musicians, actors or painters were really not considered as people. They were considered as play. They were not respected. They were not viewed as people who could raise families.”

Masekela said his biggest wish was that African heritage would not die and he hoped the lecture series would be one of the tools used to ensure this.

“One of the things that scares me is that Africans are losing their heritage. I don’t want the world to look at the African continent a few decades from now and say ‘this used to be Africa’.”

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