Mmegi Online :: Botswana, Bra Hugh’s second home, mourns
Last Updated
Friday 23 February 2018, 16:00 pm.
Botswana, Bra Hugh’s second home, mourns

South African trumpeter, singer and activist, Hugh Masekela died on Tuesday in Johannesburg aged 78. As the world mourns the passing of the legend, his music will always be symbolic in Botswana, a place he mostly regarded as his second home. Mmegi staffer MOMPATI TLHANKANE spoke to local veteran entertainers who crossed paths with Masekela in the course of his lengthy career
By Mompati Tlhankane Fri 26 Jan 2018, 16:55 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Botswana, Bra Hugh’s second home, mourns

The jazz maestro, who spent three decades in exile during the apartheid era, had association with Botswana from way back, but his most notable was when he sought refuge in 1980.

After settling in the country, he set up a mobile recording studio and did two albums. Together with the Kalahari Band, Masekela recorded the technobush album at Woodpecker in 1984 and the album consisted of songs such as the evergreen Motlalepula (The rainmaker).

In 1986, Masekela founded the Botswana International School of Music, a nonprofit organisation aimed at educating young African musicians.  He moved back to South Africa in 1990, the year Mandela was released from prison.

Veteran local music promoter Tebogo Sekgoma aka Chillies (or Chilaza to his affectionate  friends) met Masekela in the late 1970s when the  latter was still in exile.

Chillies who can be credited for bringing big artists like Shabba Ranks to perform in the country told Arts & Culture that at the time he had nightclubs Masekela was solely interested because of his passion for music.

“He saw Kalahari band and they started recording the Technobush album. We hosted many shows at Woodpecker just outside Gaborone along the Lobatse road and it was great,” he recalled.

Chillies described Masekela as a humble person who was down to earth. He said they knew that Masekela was a big artist before they met but when they actually sat with him he was very accommodative. Sekgoma was quick to highlight that Batswana didn’t understand jazz music and other genres before Masekela.

“He made things simpler for everyone. We learnt from him and he managed to produce great artists such as Soccer Moruakgomo,” he said.

Chillies said after Masekela returned to his home country, the latter asked him to be his promoter in Botswana and he gladly agreed. He recalls an AIDS awareness concert he hosted with Masekela in 1999 after Mpule Kwelagobe was crowned Miss Universe.

It was clear that Masekela made Gaborone his second home and during his stay, the legendary musician inspired many who had some form of contact with him and one such is the legendary guitarist John Selolwane who met Masekela in the early 1980s.

Selolwane told Arts & Culture in an interview that he had a premonition.

Selolwane said he saw a vision of 78-year-old Masekela’s death in Johannesburg the night before.

“I saw his death in a dream and that morning I heard the news of his demise,” he said.

 Selolwane remembers that he met Masekela while the latter was in exile. Masekela had come to live with his cousin in Gaborone. A solid friendship between Selolwane and Masekela was built, based on the admiration of the two men’s talents.

“We met through George Phatle at the time and I was already playing with the Kalahari Band with many others, amongst them Banjo Mosele,” he told Arts & Culture.

They started to play together in the Kalahari Band.

Selolwane said they recorded albums with Masekela and he also remembered how he produced the first album Masekela recorded in Botswana.

He said he would go back and forth to Johannesburg where he worked closely with a producer at Jive Records. He recalled that Masekela lost some of his comrades like Phathle during a raid by racist South African troops in Gaborone.

Masekela decided to leave Botswana after the incident, taking Kalahari Band along with him. After the group disbanded in London, Selolwane and Mosele decided


to remain in the UK.  Selolwane kept in touch with Masekela who was also based overseas.

Although Selolwane returned home in 1993, he continued to play for Masekela’s band.  He has featured in a number of Masekela’s albums and toured many countries with him.

“I had toured Africa before I met Masekela, but our creativity complemented each other,” he said. Even though they bitterly parted ways in 2008, Selolwane said he would always remember Masekela as a good man who loved what he did.

Botswana’s own jazz maestro, Socca Moruakgomo was one man who benefited from Masekela. The world renowned trumpeter became a mentor and an iconic figure for Moruakgomo. Moruakgomo who shared the stage with Masekela once told fans that his mentor recommended him to join Mbongeni Ngema’s musical that was touring Europe during the South African liberation struggle era.

Speaking to Arts & Culture, Moruakgomo said what he shared with the legend was more than a relationship. “He was a good friend, mentor, brother and father and our relation extended even beyond music. He assisted in many ways,” he said.

Moruakgomo recalled how early in his career Masekela encouraged him to be clean and stay away from drugs and alcohol. “He was honest with me as a fellow African and his contribution towards my growth in music is immeasurable,” he said. Moruakgomo was quick to emphasise that Botswana was Masekela’s second home.

“We worked closely and I would visit him at his apartment and he would later perform with me at Botswanacraft,” Moruakgomo added. Moruakgomo, who had been working in the creative industry performing arts project with the then Ministry of Education and Skills Development and Limkokwing University further described Masekela as a music genius who knew how to blend genres.

For someone who shared the stage with Masekela many times, Moruakgomo said Masekela had charisma and a stage presence. He said that he knew what to do every time he stepped onto the stage.

Describing his encounter with Masekela, Botswanacraft Marketing managing director, Oliver Groth said he personally met Masekela in the early 1980’s when he (Masekela) was still working with Kalahari Band. Groth said they first booked Masekela for Mascom Live Sessions in April 2011 and his last show was in April 2015.

“We booked him twice for Mascom Live Sessions, but he always loved to come here to buy our products,” he said. Groth described Masekela as a man who loved his African heritage.

“He would advise our staff to respect the pride and culture of Africa. He was a good friend. We are pained to have lost such a great talent,” he said.

Even though many met him in the 1980s, his influence continued for decades and legendary female music promoter, Zenzele Hirchsfeld was lucky to have worked with Masekela, especially at a young age. “I met him when I was 20. I was young and he was like a father to me and he was the closest oldest musician”.

She said it was around 2000 and at the time Chillies introduced her to the industry. Hirschfeld, who celebrated 16 years in the music industry last year, said Masekela was full of wisdom and an iconic godfather of the music industry.

Although she acknowledged that legends like Mosele, Selolwane, Chillies and Moruakgomo could pay better tributes, Hirschfeld said she would always respect Masekela for establishing the first mobile studio in the 1980s.


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