Incarceration Nation

Blues for Hugh Masekela

(1939 - 2018)

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

 His name was Hugh Masekela, a trumpeter from South Africa, who played to joyous crowds the world over, a musical exile from the madness of apartheid, the racially exclusive political system that ruled the country for decades.

Masekela used his music to tell stories of his country, and the African community which lived there.

I’m fairly certain that the first time I heard the word “shabeen” (or a drinking house) was from his lips.

His horn was clean, pure, and as clear as a bell on a new Sunday morning. His songs were places one could visit Africa, and often, he would speak in an African tongue that we did not know; the words talismans of Black, African magic that bewitched the youth of the ’60s. Words without meaning could, and did, mean everything—and nothing at the same time.

I interviewed Masekela, in the back rooms of a club in downtown Philadelphia, called Just Jazz:

Mumia Abu-Jamal: How do you see yourself as a musician?

Hugh Masekela: I think of myself more as a very grateful person; I’m grateful to God for any gift that I have.

Umm, I look at it as a very spiritual thing, I give it a lot of respect, and I play with musicians who are very respectful of that and have a great reverence for it. So, I don’t really have what you would call a very complicated vision of it, y’know, I don’t think of myself as a cultish figure. I don’t think of myself as a person with a mysterious situation, y’know? I think of myself, mostly, like, as a part of the International Black community that is my inspiration.

At that interview I asked him how it felt to see Black folks in Philadelphia, and the U.S.

He drew a long toke from a joint, and said in his distinctive voice: “It’s all Africa, man. I go to Philly, New York, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Brazil—everywhere I go, man, it’s Africa.

 Hugh Masekela—master musician, giving the world the sounds of a bluesy Africa, has returned to his ancestors after 78 winters.

Prison Radio, February 8, 2018