In recent weeks, I have used this space to complain that South Africans tend to pay proper tribute to our artists only when they die. So it may seem hypocritical and opportunistic of me to take the death of Hugh Masekela as my starting point. Yet since Bra Hugh, as he was affectionately known, passed away on Tuesday, analogue and digital air waves have been blissfully full of his music. That crystal trumpet and distinctive voice — deep and resonant in his youth, gravelly and no less powerful in old age — have been the soundtrack of my week, informing all my experiences and reflections. They have played the iconic songs: Stimela, Grazing in the Grass and Bring Him Back Home. But it has been an education to listen to less familiar tracks, to cross-reference Masekela’s life story (especially as told in the 2004 autobiography Still Grazing) with the music he produced in different periods. Masekela is a figure strongly associated with the struggle against apartheid, with exile and return...

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