Wed Sep 8, 9:18 PM ET
By Peter Apps
TEMBISA, South Africa (Reuters) - Exile, alcoholism, drug addiction, discrimination, failed marriages -- South African jazz icon Hugh Masekela has been through them all.
Now he has now broadened his act beyond music to include educating township children on the dangers of addiction, talking about more than four decades on drugs and alcohol.
"I've had a long dysfunctional life," he told Reuters after speaking to a school in Tembisa township outside Johannesburg.
"I wouldn't like to see them go through the drug addiction, the womanizing, just the craziness. I think it's very important to warn them but also to warn them to have passion for what they want to be."
Born in 1939, Masekela grew up in Johannesburg's Alexandra township, where he says music flourished as the white apartheid government clamped down on rights.
Shortly after his school closed because the Anglican cleric who ran it refused to obey the government's edict that blacks receive less education, Masekela left a letter to his parents saying he was abandoning learning and going off to make his life in jazz.
He never looked back.
MUSIC IN HIS EARS
"All I hear is music in my ears," he wrote to them. "Nothing else seems to matter."
Playing a trumpet donated by American jazz legend Louis Armstrong, he first joined a band in South Africa before leaving for London in 1960 and then traveling on to the United States.
His 1968 single "Grazing in the Grass" hit the number one spot around the world, but he was frequently in trouble with the authorities, being arrested several times for drug possession in the United States and Zimbabwe.
Masekela, who was briefly married in the 1960s to Miriam Makeba, the first black South African singer to gain international fame, returned to Africa numerous times.
He played at a concert during the festivities around the famed 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" fight between Mohammed Ali and George Foreman in Kinshasa, the capital of the former Zaire.
Remaining in exile "only in body," Masekela returned to South Africa in 1991 to tour the country as the apartheid system was in its death throes.
"We played to ... audiences for four months all over the country." he said. "That was a joy because that was my return home, but it's been like that ever since."
In his autobiography "Still Grazing," he says after his return to South Africa his addictions continued, with his partners and investors closing down his Johannesburg night club as they realized he was a bad risk and was losing money.
After a last night of cocaine, alcohol, smoking and sex, friends helped him check into a clinic in Britain.
"They turn you into a different person," he warns children in Tembisa about drugs. "Just say no. No thank you."
"Just say no. No thank you," they chant back.
Despite the end of apartheid, Masekela says the country still has a long way to go in its reforms. South Africa has one of the widest divisions between rich and poor in the world.
IF MUSIC COULD CHANGE THE WORLD
"We're not being chased by police any more and we're not harassed, but we're still poor," he said.
"If the people who control the economy are not willing to show charity and goodwill, then circumstances will always remain the same."
His latest song talks about AIDS (news - web sites), poverty and violence, but Masekela says he expects his music to have limited impact.
"If music could change the world, Bob Dylan (news) and Bob Marley would have changed it long ago," he said.
"I'm just a mirror of my society. I don't think music can make miracles. It might bring awareness to certain people but it's just a drop in the ocean."
Now aged 65 and happily married to his fourth wife, Masekela says that while he still enjoys his music he doesn't want to continue forever.
"I don't plan to be doing this when I'm 70," he told Reuters after a concert. "I've got other things to do, books to write, grandchildren to raise and laughs to laugh."
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Thursday, September 09, 2004
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