Six years ago when iconic American music magazine Rolling Stone published a South African version of the brand, Bra Hugh Masekela was the first artist to grace its cover. I got an opportunity to interview him at the time.
I had forgotten this interview until his passing was announced a week ago. Listening back to this chat, it is remarkable how relevant his thoughts still are to this day. Bra Hugh was larger than life, a true rockstar of our time.
Have a listen to the podcast here:
You can also read the transcript below;
Eric: You’ve been in the music business for just over 50 years, 10 albums later, what still keeps you going?
Bra Hugh: You come to work every morning right?
Eric: Uh Yes Bra Hugh. (laughs)
Bra Hugh: Are you counting the days?
Eric: No, I’m not.
Bra Hugh: Ahh so welcome to the club, when you are in a profession you don’t count the days!
Eric: Even if its over 50 years Bra Hugh?
Bra Hugh: Ja no, you still don’t count the days because its just a continuation, our shows are actually accompanied by the audience, because they sing with every song of ours.
Eric: Bra Hugh you’ve sold over 4 million copies of Gracing Grass In 1968 and you were also grammy nominated? Do you see any young South African being able to achieve what you have achieved in the music business?
Bra Hugh: Well you know, music is not a sport, in other words its not about competition or who will be what, depends on the person and what they did and its a lot of luck and karma and a lot of spirituality. Theres no formula, thats the best thing i can tell you.
Eric: And when you look at what the young ones are doing now what is your impression with it?
Bra Hugh: Well I think our biggest problem is that we, not only the young ones but as a society, we are imitating other cultures and as long as we’re doing that we’ll never be ourselves and yet we come from a very rich heritage and I’m into heritage restoration, and until we restore our heritage we will always be imitating other cultures.
Eric: Its funny you should mention that Bra Hugh, we spoke to Mme Thandi Classen on Women’s Day and she said she was very dissapointed that some of the greats were forgotten, do you share the same sentiment?
Bra Hugh: If we don’t make our heritage visible, especially to our children and grandchildren ,we’re going to become hibernate people, not just South Africa but the whole of Africa. Because we are the only society that imitates other cultures.
Eric: Bra Hugh, just tell me, with the rich history and the rich catalogue that you have, how do you decide which songs to perform?
Bra Hugh: On a show?
Eric: Yes, on any show that you have?
Bra Hugh: We perform the songs that people like!
Eric: Okay, so you go with what the people what?
Bra Hugh: Of course, I mean the people come there to come and listen to what they want, we have to make it worthwhile for them. Some people buy new shoes, new dresses, I mean any artist who thinks about himself only is in trouble.
Eric: Bra Hugh, your music has always been a vehicle for social commentary…
Bra Hugh: Its not my music, it’s not my music, I found it here!
Eric: Ooooh, let me rephrase that, Bra Hugh your voice has always been a vehicle for social commentary,what do you make of our social standing right now and politics as a country?
Bra Hugh: I stopped paying attention to politics because I’m convinced that I don’t understand it, so I don’t comment on things I don’t understand, anymore, I used to think I understood it, but I don’t, and when you’re ignorant, don’t talk about something you don’t know anything about. I’m disappointed that I don’t understand it but I can’t comment on it.
Eric: You were on the first cover of Rolling Stone SA and they dubbed you a rockstar of sorts, what do you make of that? Do you consider yourself a rockstar?
Bra Hugh: Thats the Rolling Stone perspective and I’m not going to fight them, I’m glad because Rolling Stone in America was the vehicle for alternative thoughts and comments and I hope that it can stay here and be the same, and at the same time it was like the vehicle for music and musicians that were considered not in the mainstream, you know, its not a mainstream magazine. So I hope it can become a great vehicle for exposing new talent and opening doors for people to be able to comment unconventionally and hey, what else can I tell you? I’m very honored to be part of the cover, I hope it stays.
Eric: Bra Hugh whom are you listening to right now,who’s music do you listen to at this moment?
Bra Hugh: My brother I look to nature, I’m a part of nature and I think the problem is, we don’t realize that we are a small part of nature, we think we are important, but we are a very small part of nature, I’m a gardener, I’m part of nature, I don’t look to human beings because human beings are insignificant.
Hugh Ramapolo Masekela 04/04/1939 – 23/01/2018
Rest In Peace to a legend.