I love this TED talk by South African music legend, Hugh Masekela on heritage. The video is 17 minutes and definitely worth the watch, not only for its inspirational message but also for the great music.
In the video, Bra Hugh, as he is fondly known, says that Africans are losing their heritage because of politics, religion, advertising and western influences. Masekela’s message is that Africans have been convinced for so long that their heritage is primitive, heathen, even backward. This needs to be changed, as the oral histories of older generations are slowly being lost as the youth emulate Western cultures.
I have been fortunate to experience Masekela’s energy live on stage and his fabulous jazz trumpet on a few occasions. He deserves kudos for his work in planning to establish academies that will not only present and teach, but also conduct research into African music, visual art, architecture, and design. Bra Hugh is certainly doing his bit to take Mzansi culture to the world.
According to a recent article on Hugh Masekela in the Boston Globe:
In a sense, the vision is a natural expansion of Masekela’s own creative investment in South African arts since his return to the country in 1990. He had left in 1960 after the Sharpeville Massacre signaled the hardening of the apartheid regime, and returned to a country in transition, with Nelson Mandela newly freed.
In the years since then, his music has increasingly drawn on South Africa’s mbaqanga funk style and new, jazzy interpretations of traditional themes…. In the end, however, trying to put categories on Masekela’s music is a fool’s errand. The man is far too eclectic. His new South African release includes a version of “Soweto Blues,” a classic he wrote long ago for ex-wife Miriam Makeba but had not recorded himself. It also features a cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”
The impression emerges that Masekela’s borderless vision and creative instincts, though honed by decades in exile, have blossomed with each year since his return to his home country, like a plant whose branches grow out at the same time as its roots.
“The greatest privilege I had in life was to be able to go back to South Africa,” he says. “I can immerse myself in our heritage and ancestry, and I have access to the world as a free citizen. I’m just enjoying being alive as a free individual and having access to the whole world.”
Investing in heritage
Heritage is an asset that needs to be nurtured. Lets take Bra Hugh’s message as a call to action to invest in our heritage for our future generations. There are useful insights here for the tourism industry. Africa’s cultural and heritage assets are been depleted while tourists are increasingly seeking more authentic experiences. How do we invest in our heritage?