The South African Federation of Trade Unions joins all South Africans, and millions of others around the world, in mourning the passing of the legendary Bra Hugh Masekela. Although he had not been well for several years, his loss still comes as a terrible shock.
We lower our flags in honour of an international icon and celebrate his incredible life. He was one of the world’s greatest jazz musicians, but equally importantly he was an inspiring leader of the struggle for national liberation.
No-one who attended his concert at the COSATU 8th National Congress in 2003 will ever forget his electrifying performance of his biggest hits, like the Stimela (the Coal Train), which dramatically brought back to life the experiences of South Africa’s migrant workers.
He wrote about this song that “For me songs come like a tidal wave … At this low point, for some reason, the tidal wave that whooshed in on me came all the way from the other side of the Atlantic: from Africa; from home.”
And, typical of the struggle hero that he was, he did not ask for a cent for this performance.
His style of African Jazz was unique and instantly reconisable, but he also collaborated with many of the greatest musicians his generation – Abdullah Ibrahim, Jonas Gwangwa, Kippie Moeketsi, Miriam Makeba, Dorothy Masuka, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Hedzoleh Soundz, Francis Fuster and Dudu Pukwana and also international greats including Harry Belafonte, the Byrds and Paul Simon.
He played his trumpet in the famous musical “King Kong”, which toured the country for a year with sell-out audiences, and was later performed in London´s West End for two years.
For workers he was revered not only for his exception musical achievements but as a leader and figurehead of the struggle against apartheid. His 1987 hit ‘Bring Him Back Home’ became the anthem for Nelson Mandela’s world tour, following his release from prison in 1992.
In his later years Bra Hugh took up some of the problems facing fellow-musicians. In 2001, he established a foundation to help other musicians escape addiction and supported the campaign against xenophobia. And with the return of his own illness he exhorted other men to get checked for prostate cancer.
SAFTU sends its condolences to his family and friends and the millions of his fans. There will never be another Bra Hugh. Hamba kahle!