Socialist Worker

Anti-apartheid campaigner Hugh Masekela’s legacy

by Rehad Desai
Issue No. 2589

Hugh Masekela plays John Coltrane’s trumpet

Hugh Masekela plays Louis Armstrong’s trumpet

Hugh Masekela, one of South Africa’s most recognised musicians recently passed after a lengthy fight with cancer.

His career was long and illustrious, spanning six decades. His first big show was King Kong, the political musical hit staged in London. He went onto play with greats in the 1960s following his self-imposed exile to the US.

Artistic collaborations and lifelong ties of political solidarity with several leading African-American musicians soon followed. Masekela counted among his friends such figures in the jazz pantheon.

He soon moved away from the Avant Jazz scene and began to fuse music from around the world into a distinct sound which earned him commercial success.


By the 1980s he became a globally recognised artist. His career rose in tandem with the anti-apartheid movement because it aligned itself very directly with our struggle for freedom.

His career is a testimony to the power of music to animate the social and the political imagination while retaining its aesthetic potency.

His talent led him to become a frame of reference for many black South African musicians. His conviction and integrity meant he remained an astute and critical commentator on the socio-political situation in South Africa.

Masekela once said, “I’ve always stood on one fact—that all over the world, there are only two things, the Establishment and the poor people.

“The poor people are a massive majority and across the world they are exploited in different kinds of ways. The Establishment depends on exploiting raw materials and the poor.”

He leaves behind a rich cultural and political legacy for South African artists to build upon. He will live on in our hearts and minds.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.