January 23 marked exactly four years since African jazz icon Hugh Masekela, who is described as a world-renowned flugelhornist, trumpeter, composer, and defiant political voice who remained deeply connected with his South African roots, passed away.
But in not wanting his legacy to die with him, the Hugh Masekela Heritage Foundation and Assupol came together to start the annual Hugh Masekela Heritage Festival which is aimed at celebrating and treasuring the legacy the late trumpeter left behind.
Moreover, it was also initiated to showcase the influence Masekela had, not only in the music industry but also in the political space as well.
The jazz maestro’s nephew, Mabusha Masekela said it was important to keep his uncle’s legacy alive as it is significant to African heritage and existence.
“Primarily through the vehicle of this Heritage Festival, we’ve had the release of Township Groups, which was a compilation album of some of his older songs taken from his vast music catalogue.
“Some other projects that are meant to achieve this goal (preserving Hugh’s legacy) are still in the works.
“We also have a programme called Buya my Africa.
“This is a programme wherein the children go to the elders who will tell them our tales and stories.
“Then the children would go back to the community centre and work up a visual representation of the stories through song, dance or even a play.
“This is the basic and real linchpin of Hugh's legacy is the promotion of African traditions.”
Gcina Mhlophe, who has shared a stage with Masekela and will feature as one of the performers at the festival said Masekela was influential in so many ways.
“Many artists who are associated with bra Hugh were inspired by him.
“They saw his excellence in the work that he was doing. Another influence he had was making you know where you come from.
“In his presence, you never forgot where you came from or who you are.
“His sense of belonging was always very clear,” she said
Mhlophe met Masekela for the first time at a cultural concert in Botswana in 1980.
She reminisced about the fondest memories she had with the legendary trumpet player.
She said whenever Masekela rocked the stage, he gave it his all.
He did not care how big or small the crowd was.
“I remember when he performed at the 100 Club in London, he performed with international musicians but you had a sense that South Africa was in the house.
That sense of pride that no matter how many people from different countries he was performing with, the stamp of South African-ness was going to be felt by every member of the audience.
“Another performance that is worth remembering was when I was an MC at the Africa Festival in Boksburg.
“Bra Hugh was celebrating his 60th birthday then.
“He performed all kinds of songs going from Joburg to songs like Don't go Lose it Baby, it was so amazing.
“And of course, Stimela, we never had Bra Hugh without doing Stimela.
“It was his landmark and then he played one of my favourites, The Marketplace.
“He turned around and looked at me, I was jumping up and down like a little girl, clapping my hands.
“I totally lost it, he looked at me and had a good laugh,” she said.
Apart from his musical presence, Mabusha said that one of the things that he misses about Masekela is his laughter and humour.
He said although the room was always filled with laughter, he would accomplish so much more under Masekela’s guidance.
He added that his uncle had this spark that no one could ever explain but knew how amazing that spark was.
“Huey (Hugh) always brought anything to life.
“On the largest scale, I think what people miss most about him is his energy.
“Even as he was getting on in the years, he could still bring a whole bunch of energy to the stage and into the crowd.
“That is what we are missing; the energy and his presence,” he said adding that he hopes to feel and see this energy at the festival
The lineup includes Mhlophe, Langa Mavuso, Berita and Msaki amongst others.
The festival took place virtually on Skyroom live.
The first two events were supposed to be live, however, due to the pandemic they have since become a virtual, also opening to a wider audience across the globe as Masekela has always been a representative of diversity and africanacity.
Mabusha said that this particular line was chosen because the festival grew out of Masekela’s associations with Assupol when he had asked them to sponsor the festival instead of giving him money.
“The idea behind the festival, which again comes out of Huey’s thinking, has always been to be representative of the diversity of what South Africa has to offer, as well as a remembrance of where our traditional roots lay,” he said.