News of the 78-year-old musical titan’s death was confirmed by his family on Tuesday morning.
“After a protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer, he passed peacefully in Johannesburg, South Africa surrounded by his family,” the statement released by his family reads.
“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 was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008 and in October last year, he released a statement announcing his decision to call time on public performances.
“It is a tough battle, but I am greatly encouraged by the good wishes of family, friends and everyone who has supported my musical journey, which remains the greatest source of my inspiration,” Masekela said in a statement at the time.
“I have cancelled my commitments for the immediate future, as I will need all my energy to continue this fight against prostate cancer.”
The celebrated South African trumpeter, flugelhornist, composer and singer was born in Witbank, Mpumalanga.
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In a career spanning several decades, Masekela released more than 40 albums. He is particularly well known for his jazz compositions, which mesmerised South Africans, as well as delivering revolutionary messages during the bloody fight against the apartheid system.
In the statement, the multi-award-winning jazz legend, popularly known as Bra Hugh among his legion of fans, said his battle with prostrate cancer had been long.
“I have been in treatment for prostate cancer since 2008 when doctors discovered a small ‘speck’ on my bladder. The treatment seemed to be successful, but in March 2016 I had to undergo surgery as the cancer had spread,” he said.
“In April 2017, while in Morocco, I fell and sprained my shoulder. I began to feel an imbalance when I was walking and my left eye was troubling me. Another tumour was discovered and subsequently, in September 2017, I had emergency treatment and the tumour was neutralised.”
Addressing “friends and media” via the statement, Masekela said he was positive about the situation.
“I’m in a good space as I battle this stealthy disease and I urge all men to have regular tests to check your own condition. Ask questions, demand answers, learn everything you can about this cancer and tell others to do the same,” he said.
The fourth annual Hugh Masekela Heritage Festival takes place on 4 November at the Elkah Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg.
Masekela was due to give a collaborative performance with Zimbabwe’s Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi. The show will continue with a line-up including Tuku, Riky Rick, Papa Penny, Bongeziwe Mabandla, Bye Beneco, Johnny Cradle, Zoe Modiga, BCUC and a traditional Basotho group.
Music-lover Tumisang Molepo said she wished Masekela comfort as he fought the disease.
“His music was a soundtrack to our fight for freedom as South Africans,” she said. “I remember well how we sang Bring Him Back Home from the album Tomorrow in the 1980s as we fought a defiant battle to have former President Nelson Mandela freed by the apartheid regime. Bra Hugh is a fighter, and I have no doubt he will survive this.”
Masekela is the father of American TV host, producer, singer, sports commentator and actor Selema “Sal” Masekela.
Watch one of Bra Hugh’s last live performances at the DSTV Mzansi Viewer’s Choice Awards 2017:
With additional reporting by African News Agency