Masekela: Guard your freedom jealously

Masekela's musical trajectory was marred by alcohol abuse and excess and he now mentors others on addiction. (Madelene Cronje/M&G)

Masekela's musical trajectory was marred by alcohol abuse and excess and he now mentors others on addiction. (Madelene Cronje/M&G)

Jazz icon Hugh Masekela is still mixing politics and music, warning that South Africa could lose the musical magic conjured up during the creative explosion under apartheid.

Brashly outspoken, the musician is far from frail after turning 70 this weekend with a performance at Africa’s biggest jazz festival in Cape Town.

The trumpeter said he longed for the days when a kaleidoscope of music, art and culture thrived in segregated communities during the apartheid era.

He said it was a time of carnivals, singing churches, marching bands and orchestras: a time when people had entertainment all weekend.

“If all those things are not brought back into our lives our kids will say ‘They say we used to be Africans’, and that day is coming and it is very sad,” Masekela told reporters in Cape Town.

The Grazin’ in the Grass artist bemoaned the lack of training grounds for young musicians, who used to be surrounded by the informal arts.

With other South African musicians of the era—such as the recently deceased Miriam Makeba to whom he was once married - Masekela played a key role in inspiring the musical fight against apartheid.

“South African music affected the world because we are the people who sing about the quality of our life, not like in the US where they sing about love. In Africa politicians fear the musical commentary,” Masekela said.

In a career spanning about 50 years, the Grammy-nominated musician, who spent much of his life in exile, claims he had been “obsessed” and “victimised” by music, finding inspiration everywhere.

At “one hell of a” birthday party in 1971, while dancing intimately with a woman, he remembered rushing off to the nearest piano where he started singing his hit Stimela.

He also received a letter of encouragement from Nelson Mandela sent from prison, which brought tears to his eyes and saw Bring back Nelson Mandela spill from him—a song that would became an anthem for anti-apartheid activism.

His musical trajectory was marred by alcohol abuse and excess and he now mentors others on addiction.

As Masekela, who released a new album Phola this year, rushed off to lunch with Mandela, he said his career highlight was “coming home” after all the years in exile.

For a message to South Africa, he used one of his new songs for inspiration: “If you are not jealous and vigilant about your freedom they will take it away from you while you are sleeping.

“If you don’t believe me look at Zimbabwe and you will see what I mean.” - AFP

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