Hugh Masekela and his nephew Mabusha Masekela. InternationalIndiaAfricaExclusiveApril 4 marked the birthday of Hugh Masekela, a South African jazz legend, who was one of the country’s most famous instrumentalists, known worldwide for his distinctive style and anti-apartheid songs. On this occasion, Sputnik sat down to interview his nephew, Mabusha Masekela, who spent many years alongside the musician. Hugh Masekela’s deepest and most lasting influence transcends Jazz, cutting across all musical genres and going beyond the musical realm as it touches upon people’s perception of their lives, their outlook and their approach to the world, Hugh’s nephew and former Zambian President Rupiah Banda’s son Mabusha Masekela revealed in an interview with Sputnik. “His influence is mostly about being yourself, reaching into you and pulling out what is yours and being proud of your traditional roots, whatever those traditional roots may be. And again, as I say, I think his influence cuts across not just jazz, but across all genres. I think his lasting influence […] is in terms of your outlook and your approach,” Mabusha Masekela explains. Moreover, he adds, Masekela’s legacy serves as a light of encouragement for people across the globe, in particular in Africa, to love and appreciate their culture as a whole. His nephew highlighted that the values and ideas the South African musician fought for back then, has not lost any relevance today, saying that it’s extremely important to promote these values among younger generations and make them remember their cultural roots. Recalling his childhood and years spent with Masekela, Mabusha says that while growing up, he was surrounded by people who genuinely cared about Africa, its culture, and the quality of life of people of African descent. At the same time, he states that he wasn’t raised “to be in an enclave” or separate himself, but to consider himself as an African, who is a part of the world just like “anybody else.” Mabusha, who later also devoted his life to music, working in music retail, as well as being a production manager and stage manager, notes that this kind of atmosphere influenced him a lot. He says that he used to love Masekela playing, and always enjoyed his music. Therefore, the greatest influence the musician had on his nephew is his taste of music, as he called it, his “musical eclecticism.” Mabusha explains that Hugh Masekela sincerely loved music, and through his deeds and works, he was able to convey this message of love and inspire people around him. Talking about his experience as Masekela’s road manager, he says that the jazz legend was very passionate about music, which was seen during his concerts. His love for music is something that he inherited from the South African composer, he emphasizes.
"For a time when I was his road manager, and every night he used to go up on stage, every night I had a blast listening to him on stage, like every night. It was fantastic. I just loved his musicality, and just being around that kind of spontaneity and energy," he recalls.
Hugh Masekela was an outspoken opponent of apartheid, who conveyed his stance and viewpoints, as well as support for his motherland, through his music. In various periods of his life, he lived in the US, Europe, and West Africa, introducing the world to South Africa’s unique rhythms and harmonies.© Photo : Brett RubinSouth African Jazz legend Hugh Masekela. South African Jazz legend Hugh Masekela. His nephew stressed that he always admired the fact that Masekela managed to “put out all these very African-oriented records in the middle of the United States of America.” He explains that it is difficult to appeal to people from across the globe through music, but his uncle succeeded. His records were very successful, and their quality was great as well, he underlines, adding: “especially those 70s albums, they’re so beautiful.” Mabusha notes that the most remarkable about the jazz legend’s records is that they are “very much in the South African musical idiom,” even though many of them were recorded with musicians of different nationalities, with Masekela being the only South African. Mabusha praises his uncle’s “ability to translate the music to other people, to the extent that they’re able to actually grasp what he’s getting at,” and understand the hidden message. He stresses that this ability “has always been quite amazing.”
He also highlights that Masekela "had a deep musicality about him." He managed to gather people and great musicians, who loved their job, and inspire them to be "pure musicians," to not just "blow notes," but make their "personality come through in their playing."
According to Mabusha, there has always been a South African element in everything that Masekela did, regardless of where he lived, he always tried to reflect the turmoil that was taking place back in his motherland at that time in his music. He draws an example of Grazing in the Grass that was “a direct South African township song.” Mabusha also recalls Soweto Blues, a song that is dedicated to the uprisings that took place in South Africa in 1976. “He always had that. That was always a part of it. Who in their right mind does an album called Colonial Man, which is essentially a whole album that takes the piss out of colonialism,” he explains. Talking about Masekela’s and his own taste of music, Mabusha underscores that he also inherited from his uncle an ability to be open to any genre, any music and culture. He states that the musician taught him not to be confined to just one genre, but to be open to people and new things, because “there’s a whole other realm of music that then becomes available.” © Photo : Brett RubinSouth African Jazz legend Hugh Masekela. South African Jazz legend Hugh Masekela. In the interview, Mabusha also mentions how his famous uncle lived in the United States and what was his impression of the country during the era of Martin Luther King. He recalls that the musician played at Civil Rights fundraisers and anti-war shows, but at the same time “his lane was a little bit different from everybody else’s.” He went on to clarify that statement by saying that Masekela followed an “approach of refusing to let people put you in a box that they choose.”Emphasizing the importance of preserving African heritage and culture, Mabusha recalls that the jazz legend established the Hugh Masekela Heritage Foundation. In the later years of his life, he was concerned about the Westernization of traditional South African cultures, and therefore wanted to promote African heritage.Upon wrapping up his interview, Hugh Masekela’s nephew ended by driving home his uncle’s impassioned and profound message to young people across the world, encouraging them to remember their roots and praise their culture and traditions.
"Remember where you come from. Remember your grandmother. Remember your grandfather. Remember the stories that the elders tell that are not written down. Know those things because it's knowing those things that's going to anchor your being and your soul," Mabusha Masekela says.