Celebrating Bra Hugh

Last week, we went and watched A Celebration of Bra Hugh Masekela at the Joburg Theatre. I wasn’t ready for all the feels. It had a limited run and thankfully, it wasn’t a musical about the legend’s life. Too soon. Too much pressure. It was actually a look at some of Bra Hugh’s songwriting and staging. Songs from three stage productions he played a pivotal role in were the focus. There were scenes from Gone Native, Songs of Migration and Sarafina – all backed by Bra Hugh’s band. Mam’ Sibongile Khumalo performed a few from her production with Bra Hugh, Songs of Migration, and the last song. Thandiswa Mazwai sang Stimela and the opening song, Bajabula Bonke. This is not a professional review. Shoot, this is not a review at all. Just a snapshot of what put me in my feels. As we were finding our seats (which were great seats, thanks Joburg Theatre), there was music playing softly while pictures of Bra Hugh were projected on a screen above the stage. There was one picture that immediately made me mushy – a babyfaced Bra Hugh who must have been younger than 10 years old. It struck me: a person can be such a reassuring, dare I say familial presence for so long that he becomes your granddad even though everyone calls him Bra. So much so you forget he was ever a kid. Another blow: what Bra Hugh has managed to do with his life is so rebellious, so rock ‘n roll, so role model because he came from a place of truly living life and not just resting on laurels. And then what truly put me all the way in my feelings was this: the first thing we hear in the production is Bra Hugh’s voice. His very youthful voice by the sounds of things. “Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen,” he says as the theatre lights dim so we can focus on the bare stage. “At this time, we’d like to do, for you, a song coming from Swaziland. It’s a song that I learned from Read More …

On: The Jazz Epistles

It’s been almost 60 years since Abdullah Ibrahim, Jonas Gwangwa and Hugh Masekela shared a stage. Helen Herimbi spoke to two of the legends ahead of the momentous occasion. During the week of the 40th anniversary of the 1976 uprisings, Abdullah Ibrahim, Jonas Gwangwa and Hugh Masekela will stage a three-night concert commemorating their beloved jazz band, The Jazz Epistles, in Joburg on June 15, 16 and 17. Consisting of Ibrahim (piano), Masekela (trumpet), Gwangwa (trombone), Kippie Moeketsi (alto saxophone), Johnny Gertze (bass) and drummers Makaya Ntshoko and Early Mabuza, The Jazz Epistles became the first black band in South Africa to release an LP. Called The Jazz Epistles: Verse 1, the album was the only body of work released by the collective. Most of them then went into exile and carved their own paths as activists and icons. But how did it all start? THE BEGINNING “I had met Kippie Moeketsi in Cape Town when they were on tour with a show called the Manhattan Brothers,” Ibrahim tells me on the phone from Germany. “They came to Cape Town and asked me to tour with them and we went to the Eastern Cape. When the tour ended, most of the people went back to Johannesburg and I went to Cape Town. “But at that time, we had become good friends and had musical compassion with Kippie Moeketsi, an incredible musician. I wanted to meet him again but didn’t have any money so I walked from Cape Town to Johannesburg. I went to live with Kippie in George Gogh. Both of us were pursuing this dream of perfecting our art. “We decided we needed to get a group together but we didn’t have a bass player and a drummer. So I found these two young people in Cape Town: Makaya Ntshoko on drums and Johnny Gertze on bass. For Makaya, this was the first time he’d ever played drums – he was an amateur boxer,” Ibrahim laughs. “We were all working towards this driving quest to validate our music, ourselves, our culture politically and culturally.” Masekela, the animated storyteller, colours Read More …