Primate of Southern Africa and Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba has paid tribute to the legendary trumpeter and anti-apartheid activist Hugh Masekela, who died Tuesday, January 23, at the age of 78.
An obituary by The Guardian described Masekela 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 for his 30-year campaign against apartheid in South Africa.
Masekela was given his first trumpet by Trevor Huddleston, who would go on to become archbishop and primate of the Church of the Province of the Indian Ocean and a leading anti-apartheid campaigner. At the time, Huddleston was a teacher at 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. When Huddleston, a British Anglican who spent years fighting apartheid in South Africa, went into exile in the U.S., he met the legendary Louis Armstrong, who later donated a new trumpet for Masekela.
Masekela 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 U.K., before going onto the U.S. and then other countries in Africa. He returned to South Africa following the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990; he continued writing and performing songs that 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,” Makgoba 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.”
Masekela’s songs of migration “are a testimony to history as we lived it,” said Makgoba. “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.’
Makgoba said Masekela’s body of work “will remain a well from which future generations can draw to quench their thirst for an uplifting message and an enriching energy to carry themselves to greater heights.”
The church, Makgoba added, “is thankful not only for his life but also for having been able to use his talent to the full.”
— With additional reporting and editing from the Anglican Journal staff.