Pubdate: Mon, 13 Sep 2004
Source: Pretoria News, The (South Africa)
Copyright: 2004 The Pretoria News
Author: Peter Apps


Exile, alcoholism, drug addiction, discrimination, failed marriages -
South African jazz icon Hugh Masekela has been through them all.

Now he has broadened his act beyond music to include educating
township children on the dangers of addiction, talking about more than
four decades on drugs and alcohol.

"I've had a long dysfunctional life," he said after speaking to a
school in Tembisa last week.

"I wouldn't like to see them go through the drug addiction, the
womanising, just the craziness. I think it's important to warn them
but also to warn them to have passion for what they want to be."

Born in 1939, Masekela grew up in Alexandra, where he says music
flourished under the apartheid government.

Shortly after his school closed because the Anglican cleric who ran it
refused to obey the government's edict on black education, Masekela
left a letter to his parents saying he was abandoning learning and
going off to make his life in jazz.

He never looked back.

"All I hear is music in my ears," he wrote to them. "Nothing else
seems to matter."

Playing a trumpet donated by American jazz legend Louis Armstrong, he
first joined a band in South Africa before leaving for London in 1960
and then travelling on to the United States.

His 1968 single Grazing in the Grass hit the number one spot around
the world, but he was frequently in trouble with the authorities,
being arrested several times for drug possession in the United States
and Zimbabwe.

Masekela, who was briefly married in the 1960s to Miriam Makeba, the
first black South African singer to gain international fame, returned
to Africa numerous times.

He played at a concert during the festivities around the famed 1974
"Rumble in the Jungle" fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman
in Kinshasa.

Remaining in exile "only in body", Masekela returned to South Africa
in 1991 to tour the country as the apartheid system was in its death

"We played to audiences for four months all over the country," he
said. "That was a joy because that was my return home, but it's been
like that ever since."

In his autobiography Still Grazing, he says after his return to South
Africa his addictions continued, with his partners and investors
closing down his Johannesburg night club as they realised he was a bad
risk and was losing money.

After a last night of cocaine, alcohol, smoking and sex, friends
helped him check in to a clinic in Britain.

"They turn you into a different person," he warns children in Tembisa
about drugs. "Just say no. No thank you."

"Just say no. No thank you," they chant back. Despite the end of
apartheid, Masekela says the country still has a long way to go in its
reforms. South Africa has one of the widest divisions between rich and
poor in the world.

"We're not being chased by police any more and we're not harassed, but
we're still poor," he said. "If the people who control the economy are
not willing to show charity and goodwill, then circumstances will
always remain the same."

His latest song talks about Aids, poverty and violence, but Masekela
says he expects his music to have limited impact.

"If music could change the world, Bob Dylan and Bob Marley would have
changed it long ago," he said.

"I'm just a mirror of my society. I don't think music can make
miracles. It might bring awareness to certain people but it's just a
drop in the ocean."

Now aged 65 and married to his fourth wife, Masekela says that while
he still enjoys his music he doesn't want to continue forever. "I
don't plan to be doing this when I'm 70," he said. "I've got other
things to do, books to write, grandchildren to raise and laughs to
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