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2009 Event Media Release - Hugh Masekela

 Issued 24 July, 2009

Hugh Masekela
6 October, Concert Hall

Legendary South African jazz flugelhorn player, trumpeter, composer and singer Hugh Masekela to make his Sydney Opera House debut.

Hugh Masekela is a legendary musician and iconic anti-apartheid figure in South Africa.

Last seen in Sydney two decades ago when he played on Paul Simon’s Graceland tour, Masekela is a tremendous live performer whose sumptuously warm flugelhorn sound contrasts with his exuberantly gravelly voice.

Returning to the harbour city on October 6 to make his Sydney Opera House debut, the 70-year-old’s indelible sounds will fill the Concert Hall backed by an energetic five-piece band of young South African musicians.

Performing a best-of collection from his extensive back catalogue and tracks from his 35th studio album Phola, the concert will be a moving journey through the African content, offering a glimpse into the personal and political journey of one of its most gifted sons.

Given his first trumpet by anti-apartheid activist and priest Trevor Huddleston in 1954 Masekela’s virtuosity led to an increased interest in music by his friends at St Peter’s Secondary School and six months later they formed South Africa’s very first youth orchestra – the Huddleston Jazz Band.

Later Masekela played a trumpet sent to the group by Louis Armstrong who was touring Africa at the time but was banned from South Africa. Armstrong had heard about a group of African youngsters who wanted to play jazz and while Armstrong never reached South Africa his trumpet got the group attention from the music community and media and they became well known.

After leading his own jazz bands, Masekela joined the star-studded African Jazz Revue, the Manhattan Brothers and played in the musical King Kong – South Africa’s record-breaking theatrical success both at home and on London’s West End. The cast also included his future wife, legendary singer Miriam Makeba.

Masekela and other eminent musicians, including pianist Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) and Kippie Moekesti, then formed the The Jazz Epistles, the first South African jazz group to record an LP and were primed for a national tour but the country’s apartheid laws were making life increasingly difficult. After the Sharpville Massacre in 1960 the government banned gatherings of more than 10 people so the tour had to be abandoned and Masekela, along with many other jazz musicians left the country.

Assisted by Huddleston and Yehudi Menuhin, Masekela enrolled at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and then, with the help of Harry Belafonte and Dizzy Gillespie he switched to the Manhattan School of Music and immersed himself in New York’s buzzing jazz scene. There he finally met Louis Armstrong, who told him, "Whatever you do, don't forget the people you come from. Don't forget it. I'm always talking about New Orleans."

Unable to return home, Masekela began making a name for himself as a musician and played with The Byrds, Herb Alpert, Fela Kuti and others. Encouraged by friends Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Harry Belafonte he formed his own group and became the first African artist to break through into  the international pop mainstream. Long before it was the trend he was fusing jazz, Latin, African and pop influences into a style all of his own. His breezy instrumental pop jazz tune Grazin’ in the Grass gave him a surprise number one hit and became the best-known song of his career.

Heeding the call of his African roots, Masekela moved to Guinea, Liberia and then Ghana. In 1981, he founded the Botswana International School of Music alongside Dr Khabi Mngoma. So moved when he received a note from Nelson Mandela telling him to keep up the good work, Masekela wrote Bring Him Back Home which became an anthem for the anti-apartheid movement.

Masekela’s outspoken political stance made him a potential target for South African security forces so he was forced to leave Botswana for London. It was there that he co-wrote the music for the Broadway musical Sarafina!, which later became a film starring Whoopi Goldberg.

Following Mandela’s release in 1990, Masekela finally returned to South Africa and embarked on his first tour of the country. Entitled Sekunjalo - This is it, the tour sold out in the country’s major cities, and his subsequent albums Black to the Future and Sixty both went platinum.

Since moving back to Johannesburg, Masekela has continued to record platinum-selling albums and has toured all over the world. He has also used his position to give a platform to a fresh generation of South African talent, forming his own record label Chisa Entertainment.

Masekela is also currently working on several films (one involving a black superhero in the vein of Superman, another on the life of his mentor Archbishop Trevor Huddleston), several novels and a number of theatre projects (including one with James Ngcobo).

Hugh Masekela has always been an eloquent and committed champion for his country, and for the ideals of freedom and justice. The struggle against apartheid may be over but he is still fighting inequality and hardship and remains a source for inspiration and hope for many Africans.

Distinguished by its high quality, Hemispheres presents a collection of extraordinary artists who often verge on the legendary in their own cultures but may be revelations to Australian audiences.

The annual program at Sydney Opera House brims with virtuosity in styles and instruments that are not part of the mainstream. The world is full of fantastic music and Hemispheres will transport audiences to the most exotic sounds on the planet.

Become a fan of Hemispheres on Facebook to enjoy all the latest news, photos and videos.

SEASON DETAILS: Hugh Masekela 
Dates/Times: Tuesday 6 October at 8pm
Venue:  Concert Hall
Tickets: A Reserve $85/$75 and B Reserve $75/$65. Premium seats $99.
                20% discount if tickets booking tickets to both Hugh Masekela and Mariza
Bookings: (02) 9250 7777 or online at
Information: Online at

Nathan McIlroy, Senior Publicist, Sydney Opera House
02 9250 7596 / 0434 146 121 / 


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