Hugh Masekela: ‘Bubbly and naughty’ to the end

2018-01-28 14:00
Hugh Masekela (Photo: Gallo Images)

Cape Town Jazz legend Hugh Masekela will not be honoured with a state funeral because he expressly wished for a private burial attended only by family and friends.

Those close to his family told City Press this week that before the jazz icon died, he jotted down his wishes on how he wanted to be buried.

He disapproved of being honoured with a state funeral.

“Some of his wishes were to be cremated and he wanted the Hugh Masekela Heritage Foundation to carry his legacy,” said one person.

The reasons for his wishes are unclear. His family discussed the government’s offer and weighed it up against Masekela’s wish.

His younger brother Lesetja Masekela said this week that his brother always told them he wanted a private funeral and for those close to him to bury him with dignity.

Hugh Masekela

“He was a cultural man. He wanted things to go his way and we’ll do exactly what he has asked us to do,” Lesetja insisted.

The musician died at his home in Johannesburg on Tuesday, surrounded by his family. He had prostate cancer.


Grazing In The Grass
Don't Go Lose It Baby
Vasco da Gama (The Sailor Man)
Ziph' inkomo
Market Place

Masekela’s oncologist, Dr Yastira Ramdas, was at his bedside: “I was next to him when he took his last breath. He died in peace. He was such a strong being; he fought hard until the end.”

Ramdas had treated him since September last year.

She says it always felt like she had known him for many years. When she met Masekela, she didn’t know he was a celebrity, but she knew him as a great and incredible man who was her patient.

“He was hilarious. I’ll miss his jokes. He was very fatherly to me. I am going to miss talking to and seeing him,” she says.

Masekela’s son, Selema “Sal”, was trying to keep a brave face, but his eyes said it all.

“I slept four hours in three days,” he said. He received the news of his father’s death while he was en route to South Africa to come and see him.

“I was sitting on the plane in Amsterdam coming to South Africa. It was about to take off.

“I was shaken by the news. It was a strange feeling. It didn’t feel real. I went through emotions that I can’t even describe, feelings and emotions that I cannot even comprehend to this day,” he says.

The trip was the longest 10-hour flight he had ever experienced.

He said what kept him going were all the good memories of times with his father and the last words his father said to him before he went overseas last month.

Before leaving, Sal had spent a few months with him in South Africa.

“He said to me, ‘I love you, travel safe my son’.” Little did Sal know that he was speaking to and seeing him for the last time.

In October last year, the jazz legend shocked his fans when he announced in a statement that he had been receiving treatment for cancer since 2008.

“I remember, at the age of five, watching my dad playing in a jazz club in Manhattan. I was young, but there was something about him when he played his trumpet.” Sal paused, catching his breath.

He said they used to play tennis together. They were both good at it and both wanted to win.

He remembered how his father took him out of school when he was 15 to join him on the Graceland tour.

Growing up, Sal said he was always his father’s handbag.

“In 1991, when I came to South Africa for the first time, I became his road manager. He supported me in my journey, even though my path was different.”

He added that even in his last days, his father didn’t give cancer the power to inhale the room.

“As much as he was in unbearable pain, he never gave it much power. He didn’t want us to feel sorry for him. He was selfless until the end. I don’t think anyone knew and understood the pain he was going through. He was a strong man.”

Sal said he felt heartbroken because he not only lost a father, but his best friend.

“Nothing prepares you for the death of your father. It’s horrible. I am heartbroken.”

Lesetja said he last spoke to Hugh on the phone last month.

Although the musician was in pain, he was still bubbly and didn’t want the family to feel pity for him.

“He was a people’s person and made sure everyone around him was happy,” he says.

He is saddened by not having had the opportunity to spend more time with his older brother because the musician spent most of his years in exile.

“But I would always cherish the little moments we shared. He was always full of jokes and there was never a dull moment around him.”

Joseph Magashela works as a security guard where Masekela stayed for more than two years.

He describes him as a people’s person who was full of life and friendly to everyone.

“For two weeks I was saddened when I saw his health deteriorated. He was in a wheelchair, he couldn’t walk and talk.

“He was so weak and helpless and although he was going through so much pain, he’d still wave his hand and greet. We were praying for him to get better,” he says.

Darren Hayward directed the DStv Mzansi Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards, one of Masekela’s last performances.

He says Masekela that night was an “extreme professional. Nothing ever got in the way of a performance.

“When he was on stage he was incredible, regardless of what was going on in his life.

“We all knew he was sick, but he was in a very good way. His performance was electrifying as usual and his normal, naughty sense of humour came through,” Hayward said.

“He was professional, full of jokes and always encouraging.”

. On Friday, the public was invited to a memorial service at Zoo Lake, Johannesburg, to celebrate his life.

A similar event was held in Alexandra, where his musical journey began, yesterday.

His fans won’t be allowed to attend his funeral.

The final leg of the memorial service will be held at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto Campus today at 12pm.


What are your memories of Hugh Masekela? Did you see him perform live and what impression did he leave on you?

SMS us on 35697 using the keyword HUGH and tell us about it. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining