South African trumpeter, composer and singer, Hugh Masakela, received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesberg, on 4 July 2017.
The music icon received the award in the university’s Great Hall on the same stage on which he performed at the age of 19 in the opening concert of Todd Matshikiza’s jazz opera, King Kong.
In his acceptance speech, Masakela implored graduands to become the ‘new pioneers of African heritage restoration at a time when we seem to be leaning on the brink of being wholly swallowed by most Western culture and several Middle Eastern and Eastern civilisations to the exclusion of our own traditions’.
He spoke of the gradual demise of the mother tongue in almost all African countries and told graduands to learn and teach ‘our own history’, saying:
‘We have long relegated our magnificent vernacular literature to the dust and insect-infested floors of crumbling old warehouses in favour of imported writings, hip hop, rap and other forms of trending fashions that distance us as far as possible from our rich traditional legacy. We need to study, learn and teach our traditional music, dance, oral literature and more in our own academies and future educational institutions where we can revive and redevelop what has been lost from the positive content of our glorious history without abandoning the best of what the West has brought to our otherwise void-encrusted lives.’
Masekela also called for a return to the great manufacturing and trading civilisation Africa once was and to ‘cease being consumer fodder’.
‘Go out there and kick some booty,’ he said, resulting in thunderous applause from graduands.