Bidding farewell to Hugh Masakela

I was sad to learn this morning that Hugh Masakela passed away, though somehow touched that he was able to die a dignified, natural death despite his activism through the years. I was born in Washington DC in 1971 and my parents were politically active.

As you can imagine, the anti-apartheid movement was often the subject of dinner table conversation. We also spent my baby years in Botswana, which meant my parents got to experience the practical day to day expression of apartheid on trips through South Africa.

I really got to know Masakela through his music when I was an undergraduate student at Georgetown University in the early 1990s. He performed often in DC, among other places at the Kenyan-owned Kilimanjaro club in Adam’s Morgan which has log since been shuttered. My favorite concert is when he performed there in 1994, celebrating Nelson Mandela’s election as president. The euphoria in the dance hall was absolutely amazing, and his songs and the words he spoke between them moved me deeply. Since then I have probably been to a dozen of his concerts, all of them amazing.

Thanks to the miracle of youtube, we have no shortage of concert recordings available to listen to. Here’s one of him performing Stimela to a crowd in Lugano, Italy. It’s a classic, where he really opens up this crowd to the life and tribulations of mine workers in apartheid South Africa.

Hugh Masakela was talented, he was funny, he was exuberant, he commanded respect, and he had a strong and compelling message of truth and justice for South Africa, for Africa, and for humanity. I am grateful to him.

Learn more about this great man: