People change, music doesn’t – Hugh Masekela

When and where were you born?

In Witbank, 1939.

When and where did you matriculate?

I didn’t matriculate. The local school that I went to eventually closed. I did the rest of my schooling first in England at the London Guildhall School of Music and then at the Manhattan School of Music in New York, United States.

Who was your favourite teacher?

My trumpet teacher, Uncle Sauda. I loved the trumpet.

What were your favourite subjects?

Music first and always. It was the only subject I knew even before school.

Any fond memories you have of your school days?


My fondest memory of school was when it was time to go home. The afternoon classes really had the dullest teachers and the days just seemed so long.

While at school, what did you want to grow up to be?

The only thing I was passionate about was being a musician. In those days everybody played soccer or was into boxing.

Anybody who didn’t do these things was considered weird, so I had to play soccer.

The Gramophone inspired me to go into music. The idea of an instrument that could reach the whole world fascinated me.

Louis Armstrong was also an inspiration. When he heard about us, the Huddleston Band, he sent us a trumpet and he was very interesting in our development. He also laughed a lot.

The great thing about music is that you play for the all your life and you bring joy. It’s a universal language and it is the most pleasant occupation in the world. It takes a lot of practice but always gets rid of boredom.

What’s your favourite instrument to play?

I’ve always played the trumpet since I was 13 years old. In all the movies that I’ve seen where there’s a band, it’s the guy who plays the trumpet that gets the girl, so I wanted to be that guy. It’s one of the most difficult instruments to play and if you can’t play it properly it sounds terrible. It takes about ten years to get a distinctive sound with a trumpet.

How has music in changed from the days when you started performing?

Music can’t change — there only 12 notes and six chords.It will only have different variations. Music’s a depiction of people’s everyday lives, and it is these different interpretations that make it different.

What was it like being a musician in those days?

The danger of music really is that you can become too popular and when you do, you think that you are god’s gift to humanity. Many musicians lose it in that respect and start thinking that they are better than everybody else, failing to realise that the people are the ones making them popular and they could easily make them unpopular.

What are your views on Kwaito and its future?

I love it. I love all music. I took an interest in music as a child and I will always look at it from a child’s point of view.

How do you hope music and the entertainment industry will change in South Africa?

When music in South Africa becomes owned and controlled by South Africans, then we can truly enjoy it. Up until now it’s been very exploitive. We need to be the ones controlling the recording, manufacturing, advertising, distribution — everything — and only then will we prosper.

What are your views of education today?

Apartheid and bantu education nearly killed us. Our oppressors left us as ignorant as possible. We were deprived of education but now it’s one of the things that will heal us. I’m not just talking about academic education — we need access to information and we need to know what’s going on around us.

What would your advice be to young people who see you as a role model?

Learn, learn, learn — not just from school but from your grandparents too.

We were steered away from our culture and lost our self-esteem through decades

of oppression and now we need to recapture our traditional selves. We need a cultural revival.

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Dikatso Mametse
Guest Author
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