Drug-busting Masekela calls a brave new tune
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By Sheena Adams
After successfully kicking the high life of drug and alcohol abuse, Hugh Masekela, the legendary South African musician, is launching a rehabilitation programme to combat substance abuse among other musicians and performers.
Masekela said he was spurred into action because he believed addiction had become "a respected culture" in South Africa. The talented trumpeter battled cocaine and alcohol addiction for 44 years before seeking treatment in 1997.
The project, called the Musicians and Artists Assistance Programme of South Africa (Maapsa), is a partnership between several South African celebrities, including musicians Jabu Khanyile and Family Factory, actress Connie Masilo and talkshow host Felicia Mabuza-Suttle.
Masekela said: "This organisation will make South Africans aware that addiction is a dynamite powder-keg. In South Africa, people are often praised for being able to drink a lot. They think drinking is something to be proud of."
He added that the glamorous lifestyle often associated with drugs was a result of Hollywood drug-hype.
"Rich people also used to use cocaine, but nowadays anyone can do it," said Masekela. He estimated that his addiction had cost him "tens of millions of rands". Fortunately, the habit did not ruin his career.
Masekela recalled his first experience with alcohol after a high-school soccer match in which he had scored three goals.
"My team mates hoisted me onto their shoulders and then gave me a half-jack of gin. I was so sick, and ended up throwing up all over my teacher's back in the school bus."
The programme will set up office in Hillbrow in a flat donated by Durban film-maker Anant Singh. It will be staffed by about four doctors trained in drug rehabilitation.
"We are visible and accessible. Also, musicians often do not have a support system," said Masekela.
Whereas most of the people who had taught him music in the 1950s had died of alcoholism, he said, today's generation of musicians seemed to be "clean-living young people".
"Musicians and artists play a pivotal part in influencing people. If they are seen to be changing their direction of behaviour, they can influence others to do the same. You often find addiction in poor neighbourhoods where people live miserable lives."
Maapsa will act as an awareness and referral organisation and will hold talks at churches, schools and political rallies, said Masekela.
Victor Ntoni, another respected musician, said alcohol and substance abuse among musicians was exacerbated by the increasing exploitation of artists in South Africa.
He said many were underpaid and resorted to alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism.
Family Factory manager Nkululeko Vilakazi said stress in the music and arts industries sometimes drove performers to drugs.
Mabuza-Suttle, one of the trustees of Maapsa, said that because she came from a background of alcoholism, she knew about the devastating effects of addiction on families.
Jazz and contemporary musicians are set to perform at the official Maapsa launch on February 26 at a fund-raising concert at the Johannesburg Civic Theatre.
Among them are the Mahotella Queens, Sibongile Khumalo, Family Factory, Khanyile, John Selolwane and Masekela. Other concerts are planned for February 27 and 28. Tickets, costing between R232 and R580, are available at Computicket.