If you tried searching today, you may have noticed an interesting image. Today’s Google Doodle is in honor of the “father of South African jazz”, Hugh Masekela. Born on this day in 1939, Masekela grew up in a time when apartheid dominated the country. His interest in the trumpet blossomed after watching the 1950 film Young Man with a Horn. The anti-apartheid activist and cleric Trevor Huddleston provided Hugh with his first trumpet.
Hugh used the art of music as political protest. Most of his compositions were against the system of apartheid, the South African government, and the economic conditions the majority of black South Africans lived in. An opportunity came to him in 1958, when Hugh secured a West End job for two years. Shortly upon his return, the Sharpeville massacre took place. In March of 1960, protests by Black South Africans led to a brutal response by the government. With the help of several friends, including Huddleston, Hugh was able to secure scholarships in London and leave South Africa.
Though far from home, Masekela did not give up the fight against apartheid. Hugh’s music of the 60s and 70s coincided with an emergence of African jazz that was popular and political. His 1977 song “Soweto Blues” was dedicated to the student uprising a year earlier; the incident once again highlighted to the world the plight of apartheid and became a critical moment for the South African government. In 1987, “Bring Him Back Home” became a rallying cry against the imprisonment of the anti-apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela. A year later, Hugh lent his talents in Sarafina!, a Broadway musical based on the Soweto uprising.
During the 80s, Masekela built a record label in Botswana. Sourcing music from Central and Western Africa, it was part of Hugh’s personal quest to reconnect with and incorporate the music of the continent in to the greater jazz genre. From here, Hugh also procured and recorded mbaqanga music of his native country, a rhythm he incorporated into recordings well into the 1990s. This coincided with the fall of apartheid and his eventual return to South Africa. Hugh continued to perform, compose, and produce music until his untimely death in 2018.
On his 80th Birthday, the Doodle is a more than a colorful image. It’s a fitting tribute to a man who was a musician, human rights activists, composer, father, performer, and hero.
Click below to listen to some of his greatest hits, available on Spotify.