Hugh, citizen of the world: A son remembers his dad

It is with heavy heart that I confirm that my father, Hugh Ramapolo Masekela, has hung up his horn after a long battle with prostate cancer. It is difficult to comprehend that this moment is real.

To me, my father has always been both ageless and immortal. Of the countless shows I had the honour of watching my dad perform, each felt like the first, each felt brand new.

At the age of five he first introduced me to the late night halls of Manhattan’s The Village Gate and Mikell’s, where he would steal the hearts and souls of innocents with a musical story telling all his own — passionately and relentlessly transporting them to the farthest reaches of Africa with both voice and trumpet.

It was these moments, and his choosing to take me around the globe at any chance he got, that would come to shape my entire worldview.

As a product of the meticulously designed apartheid regime of 20th century South Africa, my father’s life was the definition of activism and resistance.

Despite the open arms of many countries, for 30 years he refused to take citizenship anywhere else on this earth. His belief was too strong that the pure evil of systematic racist oppression could and would be crushed. Instead he would continue to fight.

He was right.

To know Hugh Masekela was indeed to know that no matter class, creed, colour, religion or any other made-up distinctions, he stood with empathy and compassion, locked arm in arm with the distressed, displaced and downtrodden everywhere and anywhere on this planet.

He carried a deep belief in justice, freedom and equality for all people to the very end. He scoffed at the futile idea of borders defining humanity.

But it was his undying and childlike love for South Africa and the entire African continent — with its dizzying displays of natural beauty, music, art and culture —that mesmerised me more than anything.

He was beautifully obsessed with showcasing the endless magic and pageantry of African people to a Western-obsessed world.

After a recent trip to Tanzania caused me to share with my dad that my heart was full, he simply said this to me: “I can give you my heart to take in the overspill.”

Selema Masekela is Hugh Masekela’s firstborn child, an entertainer, musician and international sports broadcaster based in Los Angeles

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