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South African jazz great and anti-apartheid activist Hugh Masekela dies at 78

Pius Utomi Ekpei, AFP | This file photo taken on January 8, 2015 shows South African trumpeter, composer, and singer Hugh Masekela entertaining guests during the CAF African Footballer of the Year Award in Lagos.

South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela died on Tuesday aged 78, his family announced, triggering an outpouring of tributes to his music, his long career and his anti-apartheid activism.

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“After a protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer, he passed peacefully in Johannesburg,” Masekela’s family said in a statement.

It hailed his “activist contribution” to music, which it said “was contained in the minds and memory of millions".

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said that “the nation has lost a one-of-a-kind musician.”

“He uplifted the soul of our nation through his timeless music.”

>> Hugh Masekela Talks Exile, Apartheid and Being Invaded by Music

Masekela fled apartheid South Africa in the early 1960s, and did not return for three decades until after the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990.

Among his greatest hits were the anthem “Bring Him Back Home”, demanding Mandela’s freedom from jail, and “Grazing in the Grass”. Masekela's hit "Soweto Blues" served as one of the soundtracks to the anti-apartheid movement.

Keeping up his international touring schedule into his 70s with energetic shows, his concerts at home often exploded into sing-alongs.

A teenaged Masekela was handed his first trumpet and later a Louis Armstrong hand-me-down through anti-apartheid activist priest Father Trevor Huddlestone.

“I took to it like a fish to water. I was a natural,” he recalled.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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