South African legendary trumpeter, composer and jazz musician Hugh Masekela lost his battle with prostate cancer on Tuesday morning, his family has confirmed. He was 78 years old.
"It is with profound sorrow that the family of Ramapolo Hugh Masekela announce his passing. After a protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer, he passed peacefully in Johannesburg, South Africa, surrounded by his family," the family said in a statement.
"A loving father, brother, grandfather and friend, our hearts beat with profound loss. Hugh’s global and activist contribution to and participation in the areas of music, theatre, and the arts in general is contained in the minds and memory of millions across six continents and we are blessed and grateful to be part of a life and ever-expanding legacy of love, sharing and vanguard creativity that spans the time and space of six decades."
Masekela had been in treatment for prostate cancer since 2008 when doctors discovered a small "speck" on his bladder. The treatment seemed to be successful, but in March 2016 he had to undergo surgery as the cancer had spread.
In April 2017 while in Morocco, Masekela fell and sprained his shoulder. He began to feel an imbalance when he was walking and his left eye was troubling him.
Another tumour was discovered and subsequently, in September 2017, he had emergency treatment, and the tumour was neutralised. But that left him unable to perform and he had to cancel plans to perform at the 4th annual Heritage Festival held in his honour in October.
The family said that it would release the details of memorial and burial services in due course.
"Hugh Masekela was someone who always engaged robustly with the press on musical and social political issues. We laud the press for respecting his privacy through his convalescence, and during this, our time of grief. Our gratitude to all and sundry for your condolences and support."
Messages of condolences have already started pouring in on social media, with the Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa tweeting: "A baobab tree has fallen, the nation has lost a one of a kind musician with the passing of Jazz legend bra Hugh Masekela. We can safely say bra Hugh was one of the great architects of Afro-Jazz and he uplifted the soul of our nation through his timeless music," Mthethwa said.
President Jacob Zuma also paid tribute to the legendary trumpeter and liberation struggle hero.
"Mr Masekela was one of the pioneers of jazz music in South Africa whose talent was recognised and honoured internationally over many years. He kept the torch of freedom alive globally fighting apartheid through his music and mobilising international support for the struggle for liberation and raising awareness of the evils of apartheid," Zuma's office said.
“The nation mourns one of its most recognizable signature talent in the person of Bra Hugh Masekela."
Zuma said his death after a long battle with cancer was "an immeasurable loss" to the music industry and to the country.
"His contribution to the struggle for liberation will never be forgotten. We wish to convey our heartfelt condolences to his family and peers in the arts and culture fraternity at large. May his soul rest in peace."
Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel expressed his shock at hearing the news of Masekela's death. Patel, who is in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, described Masekela as an "icon".
"What a loss, but what a life," said Patel. "The word icon is overused but but he truly was an icon of South African music and passion."
He recalled a meeting of workers and Masekela playing to a packed hall of 3 000 to 4 000 workers who absolutely erupted.
He added that Masekela's music would ensure that his legacy lives on.
Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane joined in the tributes to Masekela, saying his music captured the spirit of South Africa.
"The DA is deeply saddened by the passing of our national treasure, Hugh Masekela. We extend our love and condolences to his family, loved ones and the South African music fraternity. His unmistakable sound will echo in our hearts forever," Maimane said.
"Bra Hugh was more than just a jazz musician, he was a musical genius and a fearless activist."
Maimane said the trumpeter's music echoed the struggle of black South Africans against apartheid, but also the vibrancy of life in places like Sophiatown.
"His music touched the lives of true music lovers, irrespective of colour or creed. We all sang and danced to Thanayi and songs such as Stimela made us all contemplative... Our nation owes you a great debt of gratitude, Bra Hugh."