The first time I met Hugh Masekela, we were hanging out in the kitchen of Francis Fuster – Paul Simon’s ‘Gracelands’ percussionist. Francis had just asked me to be his musical director for an up-coming tour of Ghana. Hugh and I found ourselves sitting together eating joloff rice and stew and I naively asked “are you a musician”? He very humbly explained that he was a trumpet player and he spoke about himself as if he were a rank-and-file member of the band, rather than the legend he turned out to be.
It was only later on when we played together that I realised just who it was! We played some warm-up dates in the UK and then Hugh flew out to play some dates with us in Ghana, after which he returned to SA. It was a real privilege to play with the man and we managed to hang out a few times in Accra and Kumasi.
Hugh was generally known as the father of South African jazz. He was briefly married to another South African legend, Miriam Makeba and they remained good friends throughout their lives. He was close friends with Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk and also played with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. He was also one of many who passed though Fela Kuti’s large entourage of outstanding musicians.
I’m very happy & honoured to have trodden the red earth with him (and the boards, of course). RIP Hugh, you’re in very good company in that township in the sky!