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Anti-apartheid jazz hero Hugh Masekela dies after long battle with prostate cancer

The Father of South African jazz Hugh Masekela has died at the age of 78.

The trumpeter, singer and composer died in Johannesburg surrounded by his family following a “protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer” which started in 2008.

Known locally as Bra Hugh, Masekela was an essential part of the 1950s Johannesburg jazz scene as a member of the Jazz Epistles group.

In the 1960s, he went into exile in the UK and the US, where he collaborated with American artist Harry Belafonte, using music to spread awareness about South Africa’s oppressive white-minority rule.

He achieved an international number one hit with Grazing in the Grass in 1968, and Bring Him Back Home, a song calling for Nelson Mandela to be released from prison, became an international anti-apartheid anthem.

Paying tribute, Masekela’s family said: “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.”

Hugh Masekela was well-known for his anti-apartheid songs
Masekela was well known for his anti-apartheid songs

Fans have also paid tribute to the influential musician.

South Africa’s arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa tweeted: “A baobab tree has fallen.

“The nation has lost a one-of-a-kind musician. 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.”

South African President Jacob Zuma said Masekela “was one of the pioneers of jazz music in South Africa, whose talent was recognised and honoured internationally over many years”.

He said: “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.

“His contribution to the struggle for liberation will never be forgotten.”

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