Legendary South African trumpeter, Hugh Masekela has advised young musicians to be circumspect in their bid to attain success in what they do, warning, if the process is not managed properly, it could lead to dire consequences.
The Grammy Award winning musician stated that “very few people are successful at success,” and that most often these people get destroyed by it.
“Most people who get success get destroyed by it and some die from it. You have to be very strong and to a certain extent, you have to know when to be cold,” he advised.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Myjoyonline.com, Hugh Masekela recounted: “I have lost a lot of friends in this business. One of my closest friends was Fela Kuti, who I miss so much. He was very successful and all that but he had his little kingdom,” which brought about his down fall and subsequent death.
Born Hugh Ramopolo Masekela on April 4, 1939, he was introduced to Ghana by Nigerian music legend and multi-instrumentalist, Fela Kuti, who died on August 2, 1997.
He added that, in the over 50 years of an illustrious music career, “I have seen the profession destroy many friends. In the States I lost many friends especially to heroin. In South Africa, almost everybody I learned from died from booze.”
“Look at Michael Jackson,” Hugh recounted, “he sang beautifully, he could dance like nobody ever danced. In fact today, when you watch any pop video, it is Michael but look at what he did to himself and how it [drugs] just consumed him?”
He advised young musicians to spend as much time as they can absorbing their heritage, stating, some of Africa’s greatest musicians did not make it by accident, “they are heritage artistes.”
“Fear your grand parents and try to hang out with them and find out who you really are. You have to infuse your heritage in what you do,” he said.
According to the South African, who is also married to a Ghanaian, “If you go into the arts for success, you are going to fail. You might have a hit but a hit lasts for only six weeks. What you have to do is perfect your skill in what you do.”
The 73-year-old first came to Ghana in 1973 while on exile from South Africa. He met his wife, Elinam Masekela, a Ghanaian, in 1977 and recorded six albums with the Hedzoleh Soundz during his stint with a country he calls home: “I have a long and wonderful relationship with this country.”
He currently has over 50 albums to his credit and won a Grammy in 1968 for his smash hit Grazin' in the Grass which was recorded in just an hour and half. He was the first artiste to be signed to Universal Records in 1966.
A son of a health inspector and a social worker, who was inspired by the movie, Young Man With a Horn, about a trumpet player, which starred Kirk Douglas and had Harry James, one of the world’s best trumpet players playing the soundtrack, Hugh advised young musicians to be less reliant on “machines” – modern technology - in producing music.
Due to the over reliance on modern technology, he observed, today’s music sounds almost the same: “It is not organic, it is technological.”
Born in Kwa-Guqa Township, Witbank, South Africa, he started playing the piano in 1945 at the age of six. “I was obsessed with music from the time I was an infant,” he disclosed.
Growing up, his wish was to get a trumpet to play, and Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, anti-apartheid chaplain, answered that solemn prayer.
“I just loved music so much that I hadn’t planned on being even known. I just wanted to be good at what I did and maybe like be a side man, and do arrangements and teach,” he recounted.
While most artistes seek awards, he never thought, “of prizes. My motto in life is to keep moving and going forward. If you think you have achieved something, I feel that you should just be grateful that you are there … I don’t look at music as a sport, for me it is almost like spiritual thing beyond religion.”
“If everybody, including politicians and big businessmen, if they thought like that, the human race will be better of, because the thing that messes up most of us and most of our society is self importance,” he observed.
Hugh Masekela, who is in Ghana for the second Kasapreko Africa Legends Night set for the State Banquet Hall on September 22, disclosed that he is set to release a new album, Playing at Work next month.
Aside music, the author and teacher revealed that, he is on a campaign to restore some of Africa’s lost heritage. "Heritage restoration making the past visible to our people,” he said. He is also involved in stage productions and is currently working on a production on the life of Trevor Huddleston.
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