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Jazz legend, Bra Hugh, dies

Legendary South African Jazz trumpeter, songwriter, singer and performer, Ramopolo Hugh Masekela has died.

Bra Hugh, as the iconic muso was affectionately known by his legion of fans across the globe, died on Tuesday (23 January) morning in Johannesburg surrounded by his family.

In a statement released by his family, Bra Hugh succumbed to prostate cancer.

“It is with profound sorrow that the family of Ramapolo Hugh Masekela announce his passing. After a protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer, he passed peacefully in Johannesburg, South Africa, surrounded by his family.

“A loving father, brother, grandfather and friend, our hearts beat with profound loss.  Hugh’s global and activist contribution to and participation in the areas of music, theatre, and the arts in general is contained in the minds and memory of millions across 6 continents and we are blessed and grateful to be part of a life and ever-expanding legacy of love, sharing and vanguard creativity that spans the time and space of 6 decades. Rest in power beloved, you are forever in our hearts,” read part of the statement.

Born on 4 April 1939 in Witbank, South Africa, the late jazz musician began his music journey at a tender age of 14 years when human rights activist, Father Trevor Huddleston, gave him a trumpet. This led to the formation of the Huddleston Jazz Band.

The 1950s saw Bra Hugh reinforce his place in the South African Jazz circles as a member of the Jazz Epistles. At the age of 21, Masekela left South Africa to what then became a long 30years of exile.

While in exile in New York, Bra Hugh enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music. In 1963 Bra Hugh released his debut album, Trumpet Africaine.

He later moved to Los Angeles and continued to further his jazz horizons.

The release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC saw Bra Hugh moving back to his home country in 1990.

Hugh Masekela has over 40 music albums to his name in a career spanning over 50years. Some of the most notable ones include Soweto Blues and Bring Him Back Home.

In 2010, Bra Hugh was honoured by President Jazob Zuma with the Order of Ikamanga. The following year, Masekela received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the World Music Expo in Copenhagen. He was also honoured with honorary Doctorate degrees by the University of KwaZulu Natal and Wits University in 2017.

Masekela has also done collaborations with world famous musicians the likes of Bono of U2 and Oliver Mtukudzi.

“The nation mourns one its most recognizable signature talent in the person of Bra Hugh Masekela. It is an immeasurable loss to the music industry and to the country at large. His contribution to the struggle for liberation will never be forgotten. We wish to convey our heartfelt condolences to his family and peers in the arts and culture fraternity at large. May his soul rest in peace,” said Zuma.

Arts and Culture Minister, Nathi Mthethwa, was one of the first people to break the news of the musician’s death on Twitter.

“A baobab tree has fallen, the nation has lost a one of a kind musician with the passing of Jazz legend bra Hugh Masekela. We can safely say bra Hugh was one of the great architects of Afro-Jazz and he uplifted the soul of our nation through his timeless music. #RIPBraHughMasekela,” Mthethwa tweeted.

According to the family, details of the memorial as well as the burial services will be announced in due course.

“We will, in due course, release details of memorial and burial services. Hugh Masekela was someone who always engaged robustly with the press on musical and social political issues. We laud the press for respecting his privacy through his convalescence, and during this, our time of grief. Our gratitude to all and sundry for your condolences and support,” the statement read.

Masekela is survived by his wife Elinam Coffie and two children, Sal and Pula Twala.

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