His tribute had several ingredients embedded. The occasion was sombre but he wasn’t oblivious to/of the fact that even when we’re gone we need to be memorialised. We also mourn or bewail the dead and show compassion and kindness to the deceased’s family. Sureone must be gone forever but his/her soul lives on. In part, it’s this reason that I think President Akufo-Addo’s tribute to South Africa’s jazz music icon Hugh Masakela was very significant. And his 1,020 words in that tributemarkedly sought to accentuate those elements.
“I had to come, and came from the AU Summit in Addis Ababa on my way back home to Accra, so I could express my condolences to Barbara and his family in person.Coming here, it was difficult to believe the news. But being here, at this service, it is clear to me that the news is, indeed, true. Masakela is gone, Masakela is no more,” Mr. Akufo-Addo said.
The emphasis on his presence at the memorial service of his friend in down south-South Africa was meant to underscore the depth of their friendship and how he treasured it. He was aware of the reality yet he made it seem like the undying death (Bamua wuo) couldn’t hold Masakela captive. But the line or statement that followed was explicit. ‘Masakela is gone Masakela is no more ‘is a phrase that brings home stark reality.
“All that energy, all that vitality, all that zest for life, (what the French call joie de vivre), all that infectious sense of humour, all that loud laughter, all that love of beauty in all its forms, all that passion and belief in a higher destiny for mankind, especially for the African people, all that charisma – they have all been extinguished. That is the way of mortal man. We each have our beginning, we each have our ending. It is what you do in between that matters,” said Mr. Akufo Addo.
All that and all this, all has come to a zilch. All is vanity, no doubt. If all didn’t fall, if all could give its all and if all had all the might I bet all could have defeated death. But in the kingdom of mortality or transience says this writer vanity rules. Vanity is the king. I could feel the president’s heartbeat. From within his heart bled, I saw that. His soul sobbed. And I could literally touch the garments of his sorrow and pain. They all bore glum. The president’s countenance said it all.
Indeed over 50 years of friendship is a long time. But he reminisced details of clubbing, jamboree, expeditions in hey dey as though they’rerecent. He made Masakela smile in his grave. Yes he laughed big again! ‘Nana you’ll forever be m y friend .What a way to say a final Goodbye to a good friend. Thanks a million.”
Also at thefuneral on Tuesday 30 January 2018, the President sorrowfully spoke about Masakela as a family member. And he spoke about how he would miss his one-time partying friend.“…we became firm friends, and looked out for and saw each other at various clubs across the world – New York, London, Paris, Lagos, Abidjan, Lome – wherever we were together, we would meet and party. Nobody partied like Masakela,” he said.
Traditionally, Africans have a way of celebrating the dead. One unique way is the sense of respect we accord the departed soul. Often we use phrases such as pass on, pass away to avoid saying die when one thinks it might upset someone. Sometimes we say Asomasi has transitioned. We call it Home going sometimes. At times we kick the bucket and other times we go to the village. Still there are times we find ourselves asleep with Jesus. In which way we may describe this eternal journey just remember this: “All die be die.”
A friend of mine an American once asked me this question: Is it the fear of it or we tend to revere it? My response it’s both.
Here’s the full text of the Tribute
“I had to come, and came from the AU Summit in Addis Ababa on my way back home to Accra, so I could express my condolences to Barbara and his family in person.
Coming here, it was difficult to believe the news. But being here, at this service, it is clear to me that the news is, indeed, true. Masakela is gone, Masakela is no more. All that energy, all that vitality, all that zest for life, (what the French call joie de vivre), all that infectious sense of humour, all that loud laughter, all that love of beauty in all its forms, all that passion and belief in a higher destiny for mankind, especially for the African people, all that charisma – they have all been extinguished. That is the way of mortal man. We each have our beginning, we each have our ending. It is what you do in between that matters.”
What an amazing life he lived, and did virtually everything he wanted to do. We met a long time ago, nearly 50 years ago. Predictably, for both of us at the time, it was at the bar of Keteke, then the hottest nightclub (or disco, as they were then being called) in Accra. He was already a legend – “King Kong”, and “Grazing in the Grass” had seen to that. But, he wore none of that. Simple, straightforward, he exuded fun and warmth. Many drinks later, we became firm friends, and looked out for and saw each other at various clubs across the world – New York, London, Paris, Lagos, Abidjan, Lome – wherever we were together, we would meet and party. Nobody partied like Masakela.
From the beginning, that is what I called him – Masakela – and he called me Nana. It never changed. For some reason, I could never come to terms with Hugh or Bra Hugh. He was Masakela, unique and compelling.
He bore his exile with dignity. He never lost his belief that the inhuman system of apartheid would be dismantled, and that South Africa would, one day, be free. And he did his best to ensure that happened. He was one of the most prominent of the South African exiles, who kept the struggle alive before the eyes and conscience of the world, and he did it largely through his wonderful music. Trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, his voice – he made beautiful music out of each of them. And when his idol, the iconic Nelson Mandela, greatest of all Africans, walked out of prison, his joy was without end. I came here to visit with him when he returned home, and that was my first experience of South Africa. He took me to the recording studio in downtown Johannesburg, where he had recorded in the old days with Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim), and the others. In fact, on the day we went, the new diva, SibongileKhumalo, was actually in the studio, and he introduced me to her.
I was fortunate in my friendship with him and his great friend, that other great figure of African music, FelaAnikulapoKuti (FelaRansomeKuti of earlier years). They made an exhilarating company and left me with marvellous memories. One such was at dawn, in Lome, capital of Togo, when, after leaving the nightclub ‘Z’, we went to the beach, behind the Sarakawa Hotel, and, sitting on the shores of the Gulf of Guinea, looking out across the Atlantic, Masakela played for us for one hour. It was like a song of praise to all that was beautiful on our African continent. Even Fela was moved, and every time I think of it, it brings tears of joy to my heart.
His love of Ghana was such that he became a Ghanaian, and, for me, a member of my family. My wife Rebecca, my sister Mamaa, her daughter Khadija, my brother Bumpty, his wife Irene, our mutual friend Sabah Bedwei Majdoub, Joe Ampah, his widow Rosalind, and the talented Accra musicians – Francis Fuster, The Todd brothers, Frankie and Stanley Todd, Sol Amarfio, the late Faisal Helwani, the outstanding Ghanaian music producer – we were all his family, to whom he remained faithful to the end. He even married, for a time, the lovely Ghanaian woman, Elinam Cofie. South Africa will always have to share Masakela with us in Ghana, and, indeed, with the rest of Africa.
There are some people who cross your life, and you know that it is a privilege to share the same time and space with them. Masakela was one such. I feel truly privileged to have lived at the same time as him and to have been blessed by his friendship.
Last year, he did what we had both talked and dreamed of for decades – he played at my inauguration, as President of the Republic of Ghana, on January 7, 2017. He played on two occasions that day – at the official lunch, and at the wonderful party my brother gave for me and my wife, Rebecca, that evening, both, unforgettable occasions. Indeed, several diplomats told me, on the news of his death, that that was the first and only time they heard him in flesh, a memory they would always cherish.
I am reluctant to quote Shakespeare – he wrote some 500 years ago, and has since been extensively quoted. But the reason for that is his mastery of the English language, which allows him to find the appropriate words for each occasion. This is how Mark Anthony described Brutus, one of the conspirators against Julius Caesar:
“This was the noblest Roman of them all. All the rest of the conspirators acted out of jealousy of great Caesar. Only he acted from honesty and for the general good. His life was gentle, and the elements mixed so well in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, “This was a man.”
Masakela, you were the man. Rest in perfect peace. God bless.
Johannesburg, 30th January, 2018.