Hugh Masekela (born
Johannesburg, April 4, 1939) is a South African
flugelhorn and cornet player. In 1961, as part of
the anti-apartheid campaign, he was exiled to the
United States where he was befriended by Harry
Belafonte. He has played primarily in jazz
ensembles, with guest appearances on albums by The
Byrds and Paul Simon. In 1987, he had a hit single
with "Bring Him Back Home" which became an anthem
for the movement to free Nelson Mandela. After
apartheid ended, Masekela returned to South Africa
where he now lives.
Masekela was an old collaborator of Abdullah Ibrahim.
He is reported to have been initially inspired in
his musical growth by Trevor Huddleston, a British
priest working in the South African townships who
financed Masekela's first trumpet. Masekela played
his way through the vibrant Sophiatown scene with
The Jazz Epistles and to Britain with King Kong, to
find himself in New York in the early 1960s. He had
hits in the United States with the pop jazz tunes
"Up, Up and Away" and the number one smash "Grazin'
in the Grass".
A renewed interest in his African roots led him
to collaborate with West and Central African
musicians, and finally to reconnect with South
African players when he set up a mobile studio in
Botswana, just over the South African border, in the
1980s. Here he re-absorbed and re-used mbaqanga
strains, a style he has continued to use since his
return to South Africa in the early 1990s.
In the 1980s, he toured with Paul Simon in
support of Simon's then controversial, but highly
critically acclaimed, album Graceland, which
featured other South African artists such as
Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Miriam Makeba, Ray Phiri,
and other elements of the band Kalahari, which
Masekela recorded with in the 1980s. He also
collaborated in the musical development for the
Broadway play, Sarafina! He previously recorded with
the band Kalahari.
2003, he was featured in the documentary
film Amandla!, about how the music of South
Africa aided in the struggle against
In 2004, he released his autobiography,
"Grazin' in The Grass: The Musical Journey of
Hugh Masekela", which thoughtfully details
his struggles against apartheid in his
homeland, as well as his personal struggles
against alcohol addiction from the late
1970s through to the 1990s.
A period when he migrated, in his
personal recording career, to mbaqanga,
jazz/funk, and the blending of South African
sounds to an adult contemporary sound
through two albums he recorded with Herb
Alpert, and notable solo recordings,
Techno-Bush (recorded in his studio in
Botswana), Tomorrow (featuring the anthem
"Bring Him Back Home"), Uptownship (a
lush-sounding ode to American R&B), Beatin'
Aroun' de Bush, Sixty, Time, and most
Essential recordings include:
"Bring Him Back Home"
"Coal Train (Stimela)"
"Don't Go Lose It Baby"
"Ha Le Se Li De Khanna (The Dowry Song)"
"Grazing in the Grass"
"The Joke of Life"
song, "Soweto Blues", sung by his former
wife, Miriam Makeba, mourns the carnage of
the Soweto riots in 1976.
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