Inaugural Hugh Masekela lecture by Tuku

JOHANNESBURG - Inaugural Hugh Masekela Lecture by Oliver Mtukudzi at the University of Johannesburg on September 9, 2014.

When Bra Hugh asked me to give this lecture, I was pleasantly surprised. Here’s a man I respect and a man who has international recognition.

He could have asked anyone to give this talk today, but he chose me. I am grateful and humbled. Thank you, Hugh.

Let me take the opportunity to thank Professor Ihron Rensburg Principal of the University of Johannesburg for allowing the name of this great institution to be linked to the name a great South African musician and ambassador. Both Bra Hugh and the University of Johannesburg are great ambassadors of what is best about South Africa and Africa. Congratulations for hosting the first annual Hugh Masekela lecture.

How do you measure the impact of a man or a woman?

That is the title of my lecture tonight. This is the question I will endeavour to grapple with, ladies and gentlemen.

In order to answer this question, I will try to examine the great life of my friend, Hugh Masekela. As I was preparing this lecture, looking at Hugh’s life — the challenges, the failures and the successes, I realised something.

At this time in history, when we as Africans are being challenged in so many ways as we try to strike a balance between taking up more and more of Western culture versus holding on to the things that give us our identity; our languages, our values, our music, our dances, our way of dealing with conflict, our sisterhood and our brotherhood; we need people who can remind us what it is to struggle, to fight, and to win in the end. — and do so without giving up our identity as Africans.

Bra Hugh, as many of you know, has taken his music to all corners of the world. In fact, he has travelled around the world more times than many of us have been to the shops to buy bread. He has produced enduring hits and has performed before presidents, kings, queens and ordinary people like you and me. If I were to mention his list of awards it would take up the better part of this lecture.

But all these things are not how I personally measure Bra Hugh. None of these things should ever be how we measure or define anyone.

How do you measure the impact of a man or a woman?

My first interaction with Hugh Masekela was uni-directional. I heard him on the radio around 1980-1981 — or the “wireless” as we called it back then. He was playing the trumpet in Mirriam Makeba’s band, and during one of his solos, something happened. I heard him and he stood out. At the time it was really difficult to get any news or hear music from black artists from South Africa as the apartheid regime seriously stifled all of this.

To hear black artists on radio was something really interesting for me. Back in 1958 when the first radio station in Zimbabwe started, the music was mostly European and American.

As a teenager, I fell in love with the music of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and other soul singers of the time. I started singing their songs at school with my friends and we would get into trouble for disrupting class but I had no idea then that any of us would ever be aired on radio. The inspiration was just to be able to sing.

When I first met Hugh Masekela in 1983 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, I was already a professional musician and had been following his work. I admired and respected his talent. We exchanged some words and then moved on with our lives.

It was only three years later that I began to grasp some key aspects of Bra Hugh’s character. I was performing at a club called Job’s Night Spot in Harare. Bra Hugh was in the audience, and from nowhere he jumped up on stage and joined me and my band. His energy, his laughter, his aura, his naughty smile were all so infectious.

Our friendship has developed very steadily over the years and we have become serious fans of each other’s work. We have performed on stage together many times and just last month in August stepped into the studio together for the first time — a dream come true for me.

What a joy that was, working with Hugh, having dinner with him, hosting him in Zimbabwe as we have done many times before.

You see, in recent years, each time I meet Hugh, his music, his status as a legend and his accolades, have grown. But he as a person, his humanity, what we call in Shona “unhu” or as you would say here “ubuntu bakhe”  — remains the same.

If you approach him as a celebrity, yes you get the celebrity, the man who is trying to deal with a fan — but I have seen over and over again the magic that happens when people approach him as another human being. He responds to them like a father, like a brother; with humility, with warmth — except if you’re wearing a weave. As we all know Bra Hugh does not like weaves.

So here we are, Hugh and I, old men in many respects — he older than I, but also young in other respects.

It’s been over 30 years since we first met and when you get to this age you start to look back over your life and ask certain questions. Questions like; “What has my real contribution been?”

“How will my life be measured?”

How do you measure the impact of a man or a woman?

Hugh, when I look at your life, when I think of all the amazing things you have done, I think what a waste it all would be if you had not been humble enough to realise that this amazing gift you have been given was not for you — but to inspire others, to heal, to touch hearts, to move people. To sing to a bigger and universal heartbeat of life.

Yes, I know of your struggles, of the time in your life when you battled many things, but I am not here to focus on that. My focus is on the fact that you overcame those things and came out a better human being. An uplifting and spiritually healing human being.

That brings me to my first point on how you measure the impact of a man or a woman.

1. You measure a man or a woman by what they have overcome.

You measure someone not by how much they have done, or how many awards they have received, or how many degrees they have. Instead, you measure people by what they overcame to achieve  those things, because that tells you the story of their strength of character. Or to put it differently, whether they are of sterner stuff or not.

At a time when we see so much moral bankruptcy, where our continent cries out for answers and solutions, we need more than ever before men and women of character.

As we fight to hold on to our heritage and to our continental dreams and the key ingredients that unites and identify us as Africans, we need men and women of character.

2. You measure a man or a woman by how much they respect who they are.

Who you are is not to be defined by the material things you accumulate in life. It is not the adoration of fans or the awards hanging on your wall that matter.

All those things can disappear or be devoid of their importance.  Who you are, really is to be found in your values, how you remain rooted and focussed no matter how high you climb up the ladder of success as defined by the world.

Who you are lives deep inside you. It cannot be duplicated. Stop trying to copy others. Be who you are and make peace with your uniqueness and your special talents.

To remember that your home and your roots are in Africa even when you are playing for European kings or American moguls is respecting who you are.

Hugh lived in the USA for many years, but even while he was there he was fighting Apartheid with his music and his powerful words. Today, he still tours the world non-stop, but he never stops calling South Africa home.

In the meantime, others leave and want nothing to do with their home-country because they are embarrassed by who they are.

3. You measure a man or a woman by how much they respect other people.

Sometimes as fans we never get to know the real people behind the mask of celebrity. I have had the fortune of sharing the backstage of life with Hugh, away from the lights, the press and the adoring fans.

Hugh is always thinking, “How can I light this place up, how can I make you smile, how can I share something that will make you laugh?” Other men of his stature are always thinking “How can I get more out of this situation?”

Respect other people. Respect your elders.

The other side of respecting people is for parents respecting their children. Too many parents do not respect their children’s talents. They want to force their children to be something they are not. If your child kicks a ball through a window you get angry and shout at them instead of applauding them and saying ‘What a shot! You are going to be a great football star!’

School is important, extremely important. But we must nurture our children’s other talents, because that is who they are, and in respecting that, we are respecting God, because he doesn’t duplicate talent. No two people are alike.

How will Africa succeed if we suppress our children’s unique talents and gifts?

4. You measure a man or a woman by their attitude towards life

In Zimbabwe there is a word, “Zvakapresser.” It means “Things are tight.” There are some people who when you greet them and ask how they are, no matter what is happening in their lives; even if they just had a new baby, or got a new job, or found new love, will respond, “Zvakapresser.”

They just got married. “Zvakapresser.”

They just bought a new house. “Zvakapresser.”

They are at the top of their career. “Zvakapresser.”

Hugh on the other hand reminds me just by how he carries himself, how he’s always laughing, how he always has a joke; that no, “hazvina kupresser”.

Things may be falling apart around you, but it is how you bear your burdens that matters. It is how you face your challenges and victories that defines you.

It is how thankful you are for all the things that actually have gone well, all the things and people you have around you. This is what really matters.

In Shona, we clap our hands before eating and say “Pamusoroi”( excuse me), like this (demonstrating), as a way of saying thank you that someone made the effort to make that food, thank you that we have food to eat.

And there are lots of little things like this in our African culture that are meant to remind us to be grateful. To remind us of the beauty of life, to remind us that despite everything else, we are blessed.

It is because we are forgetting these things that we resort to “Zvakapresser”.

5. You measure a man or a woman by how much they give back

You see when you become successful, or wealthy, or a celebrity, it is too easy to start thinking that you are special, that you made all these things happen by yourself. Sometimes we forget all the people who have worked tirelessly around us, from our parents, our friends, our colleagues, to get us where we are and so we forget to give back.

Hugh never stops giving back. He is director of the Lunchbox Fund which feeds students in schools around Soweto. He continues to nurture musicians, show them the ropes and instil in them the richer and meaningful values of life.

Bra Hugh also lends his support to the Ubuntu Education Fund, a New York-based charity that runs a school in the Eastern Cape, here in South Africa.

He is involved with the Ifa Lethu Foundation for the return of struggle art that left SA under the apartheid regime) and with The Serious Trust, a UK based charity that develops music strategies for underprivileged youth in London’s inner cities.

On a final note — Bra Hugh is in the process of formalising and registering his own organisation — the Hugh Masekela Heritage Trust — with the intention of taking it across the continent of Africa  — aimed at restoring traditional African culture and heritage.

In conclusion ladies and gentlemen…

When I look back to the time of the first wireless broadcast I spoke about earlier, to the time when there was only one radio in the neighbourhood and everyone would go to the shops to listen to it and when I compare that time to now, when all of us have one device that acts as a radio, a TV, a phone, a calendar and a camera, in our pockets I realise that things haven’t really changed.

On the surface, it looks like they have, but in reality the things that matter; like respect, discipline, love, family and honouring one’s roots — those things never change and it is by those things that we are all measured.

To Hugh, my brother, my friend. Thank you for your humility. Thank you for fighting. Thank you for your music. Thank you for never forgetting, which direction was home.

It is my wish that more young Africans can learn that one lesson. Which direction is home — in a physical, spiritual and emotional sense.

Because if we can remember that, even when we prosper as a continent we will remain grounded in those values that will ensure that our prosperity is not empty, but full of meaning.

Thank you. Tinotenda.

Comments (10)

Its a mouthful coming the cheerful child spacer "TUKU".

Mukanya - 11 September 2014

This Tuku guy is certainly not the right person to talk about 'Ubuntu, and morals. He must just talk aout music. Period. Only yesterday his wife and ex-wife were talking in his book Tuku Backstage in Daily News about his own moral flaws and how he had affairs outside wedlock in both his marriages and producing illegitimate children. Sorry to use the word illegitimate because it stigmatises the innocent children in question. And to think that people were actually listening to him speak in that Hugh Masekela lecture when he himself has no morals to show. Double standards Tuku, you must be ashamed of yourself.

Abigail Chaitezvi - 11 September 2014

May the two commentators above be the first to throw a stone at Tuku. We have all sinned. And as a musician, divorcing one wife and have two kids out of wedlock? Thats a sign of someone with good morals

Wasu - 11 September 2014

Wasu, I have not divorced my husband and I don't have two secret children out of wedlock. That is a sign of morals.

Abigail Chaitezvi - 11 September 2014

Good lord, I see Tuku Backstage has a wooping over 27 000 hits on your website and is topping the list of the most popular stories this week. Judging by all this I think this book has all the makings of a best seller also being the first of its kind in Zimbabwe's showbiz and celebrity literature. Well done guys. I can't wait to be back home for Christmas.

Honest Kachiti - 11 September 2014

We have all fallen short before God. ZvaTUKU ndoozoridzwa mabhoso!!!

sheillah - 11 September 2014

Sheilla, please say its YOU who has fallen short before God. Don't say WE have all fallen short before God. The moral flaws of many high ranking officials including high court judges and the president were exposed and now you want to come out with guns blazing to defend Tuku. Maybe you are lovers. This Tuku Backstage book has done Great and will teach celebrities some lessons.

Abigail Chaitezvi - 12 September 2014

I was reading the extracts from Tuku Backstage. I surely think that the lowest moment in Tuku's work was when he was led by his manager Sam Mataure to go and collect a fake doctorate degree from a fake academic institution in Harare. Education authorities in Zimbabwe dismissed the institute and the degree. Any professional manager would have checked the authenticity of the institute and the doctorate before accepting the degree. The whole country laughed at Tuku and it was so embarrassing. People saw Tuku as being so greedy to accept anything written Degree on it. Tuku needs professional management to take his work and music even further. The current manager who also plays drums very well must be redeployed to do what he knows best - playing drums. Tuku should swallow his pride and rehire Debbie Metcalfe. The former publicist seems to be very professional too judging by the extracts from his chapter 'To be Tuku's publicist' because I am also into information and publicity work. But I don't think Tuku wants to see Mutamba ever again. In the world we are living today people hate to be told the truth about them. People want to sweep things under he carpet that is why we have become so corrupt.

Conrad Sithole - 12 September 2014

Thanks Tuku for the words of wisdom. Thats how we measure you ! Not like the rumour-mongering mongrels who are still bitter abt not being publicists anymore!

Nyati - 12 September 2014

Well said lecture Tuku. Full of maturity, respect, dignity and focused. It is what you choose in a meal that makes it great!

Omahn - 17 September 2014

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