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HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 15: SInger and trumpeter Hugh Masekela attends the 35th Anniversary Playboy Jazz Festival - Day 1 at the Hollywood Bowl on June 15, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rodrigo Vaz/Getty Images)

African Music Icons: Hugh Masekela

Described by many as the king of South African Jazz, Hugh Masekela has earned his seat at the African Music Hall of Fame. His musical career started when he picked up the trumpet as a 14-year-old boy. As a young trumpeter, he had the privilege of receiving one of Louis Armstrong’s trumpets from Father Trevor Huddleston, a revered anti-apartheid activist whom he considered his idol.

The early days of his career saw him touring with jazz bands such as the Manhattan Brothers, Huddleston Jazz Band, and the African Jazz Revue a popular South African singing group during the Apartheid era. 


Masekela left South Africa in 1960 after the increased brutality of the Apartheid regime. He composed and recorded many new songs in New York; including his 1968 number-one hit ‘Grazing in the Grass’.

Masekela played primarily in jazz ensembles, like the Jazz Epistles, and successfully collaborated with international artists like The Byrds and Paul Simon. His collaborations with legendary artists like Miriam Makeba, Dorothy Masuka, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Hedzoleh Soundz, Francis Fuster, and Dudu Pukwana not only demonstrated his immense talent but also highlighted his commitment to promoting African music on a global scale. These collaborations served as a testament to Masekela’s dedication to bridging cultural gaps through the universal language of music.

Throughout his active years, his music portrayed the struggles and joys of living in South Africa and voiced protests against slavery and discrimination. One such song was his 1987 hit ‘Bring Him Back Home’ which became the anthem for Nelson Mandela’s world tour, following his release from prison in 1992.


Recorded in 1986 for his Tomorrow album, the song, and its wish became a reality when Mandela was released in 1990, and it was played during his many visits to America following his release, as well as on numerous television broadcasts.

Masekela also produced music for musicals like Sarafina and was featured in the 2003 documentary film Amandla.

Although Hugh Masekela, had a profound jazz background and impressive credentials, he achieved significant popular success as one of the pioneering figures in the world fusion genre. Masekela’s dynamic trumpet blended jazz with various South African styles and music from across the African continent and diaspora. His exceptional horn skills graced numerous recordings in genres such as pop, R&B, disco, Afro-pop, and jazz.


Written by Emmanuel Paapa Quaicoe.

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