South African music is rich in history. Let’s look at the greatest South African musicians in history, such as Hugh Masekela. He was a trumpeter for over six decades! While mostly known for horns, trumpets, and reggae, the music scene in South Africa has quite a few well-known musicians.
While Masekela is arguably the best of the best musicians in South Africa, there are great musicians in every genre of music. He also was a leader of artists using their voices politically to influence the world. We will look at the movement of musicians speaking up and changing the world, and how Masekela influenced generations of musicians.
Music is a key component of the history of South Africa, as it holds a place in the culture and political history of the region. While Big Swing and Jazz were popular for decades, as the times have changed, so has the type of music played throughout the region. Now, there are a lot of EDM bands, Rock bands, and Reggae is prevalent as well.
While Hugh Masekela died in 2018 at age 78, he was one of the most famous South African musicians while he was alive and playing, and his legacy is far-reaching. Famous with the trumpet, Masekela was huge on the jazz scene. Playing the trumpet for over 60 years, he is seen as the founder of jazz in South Africa, which also means he was the founder of modern music in South Africa.
In addition to his musical prowess, Masekela was actively involved in the political scene as well. Fighting against apartheid, he was actually exiled from his country for 30 years. Standing his ground, he continued to use his music and perform in rebellion against his homeland.
Well-traveled, while he was exiled, he spent time living in the U.S. before ultimately returning to his roots and exploring all that Africa had to offer.
Musically and politically, Masekela is easily one of the most influential musicians to ever come from South Africa. He has influenced most modern musicians coming out of South Africa, and his impact will be felt for years to come.
Other Amazing Musicians from South Africa
While Hugh Masekela might have pioneered the music scene, there are a variety of excellent musicians from South Africa who came after him.
- Miriam Makeba – Referred to as “Mamba Africa,” she was actually married to Hugh Masekela briefly, and they shared the same love of music and passion for politics and human rights. This civil rights activist was known musically for jazz and Afropop music. Using her musical platform, she too spoke out against the white government in South Africa. Her music career was mostly successful in the U.S. after she was exiled from South Africa. She is largely considered the first musician to bring African music to the rest of the world.
- Francois Van Coke – Looking at a newer musician, Van Coke has been performing mostly since 2003. Playing in the alternative-rock genre, his music also is political. He speaks out against the displacement of Africans. His music is different than others in Africa, and is one of the most famous South African Rock musicians. Choosing to play a genre other than trumpets and Jazz, Van Coke is a pioneer in his own right, as he proved to other musicians in South Africa that there is more music to be played than just Jazz.
- Spoek Mathambo – another musician who created some newer music, different thant he typical mold of South African music, this musician focused on dubstep, punk, and the electro genre of music. This type of music wasn’t really on the scene in South Africa until Mathambo.
- Tidal Waves – no summary of South African musicians could be complete without adding some Reggae flavor. This band is a quintet that has toured all over the world. The son of Reggae legend Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, saw them perform live and immediately booked a tour with them, as he was so impressed. With the backing of Ziggy, this quintet is now considered to be a strong up and comer in the worldwide Reggae scene.
Brief History of South American Music
It is no coincidence that most of the musicians on this page were involved politically just as much as they were musically. Most music from this region blends the history of conflict in the region with rich musical notes. Music is an outlet for musicians in this region to release pent up energy over the political climate and civil wars in the area. Music was a way to try to bring the country together, reaching people on both sides of the civil unrest.
Jazz was the first type of music that really took off in the area. Today, there are a variety of different types of music played by South Africans, but most all still nod to their jazz origins. Music was a way for white people and black people to come together and mingle over a shared interest, and this ended up causing or contributing to some of the civil unrest in the country.
Mixing Jazz and Politics
Nowadays, you constantly see many athletes, musicians, and actors getting involved with politics, especially any time it’s time for a new election of a public official. It seems easy for them. They sit on their Instagram accounts and preach their political viewpoints to masses of followers. But, who was the first? Who made it ok for celebrities to use their platforms to change the world?
Not only was Hugh Masekela a pioneer of jazz music, but he was also one of the first artists to speak up politically. Masekela led the way for musicians in South Africa, and for artists all over the world, to hone their crafts and then get involved in causes they care about. It is not a stretch to say that the world would not be the same without the legendary Hugh Masekela and all the musicians that came after thim.