Masekela . . . really can blow his own trumpet


A tragedy in 1985 forced him to leave for England after the South African Defence Force killed his friend George Phahle, his wife Lindi Phahle and 14 other people suspected of being terrorists.

“It was very painful for me to go into exile again,” he said.

While in England, Masekela recorded one of his greatest works, Tomorrow, which featured his next hit, Bring Him Back Home (which is also called Mandela).

“It was the most popular song I had ever done. Mandela wrote to me from Pollsmoor Prison and sent me a birthday card.

“On one of Winnie’s trips to the prison to visit Mandela, she told him what I was performing overseas and in Botswana. Being the crazy nut that he was in corresponding with everybody, he sent me a birthday card.

“It said: ‘Keep up the good work. Good Luck.’

“After reading it I said: ‘Yeah, the guy is in jail and is encouraging me, and I’m outside. It’s not even generous, it’s weird.’

“It made me feel so bad for him that I just started crying and I went to the piano and started singing this song word for word and it just came.”

Meanwhile, during his stay in England, Masekela also conceived, with playwright and songwriter Mbongeni Ngema, the multi-award winning musical Sarafina, which found great success on Broadway in 1988.

After going on to tour with Paul Simon’s Graceland – which included a number of prominent African musicians including Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Miriam Makeba – Masekela finally was able to return home, following the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990.

“In 1990 I was ecstatic to be able to come home.

“Being able to immerse myself with my people meant everything to me.

“One can’t have a career if you do not do it from your homebase,” he said.

In 1991, Masekela launched his first tour of South Africa, called Sekunjalo – This Is It! with the bands Sankomota and Bayete.

The extravagant four-month tour sold out throughout the country’s major cities.

He now owns the first purely African-owned music company, Chissa, which has its own distribution company.

“Next month, we will be releasing an album recorded live from Market Theatre and we are also licensing other recorded albums from Angola.

“My main passion is to be part of the creation of an independent African establishment,” he said.

Masekela can also still be heard adding his distinctive voice and flugelhorn to many other world artist’s recordings as well as his own.

Masekela’s recent albums, Black to the Future and Sixty have both gone platinum.

l Sources: High Masekela, randomhouse.com; Chissa Entertainment; headsup.com, Oldies.com.

December 2006
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