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Farewell to the father of South African jazz

I enjoy jazz, but even if you don’t, you will know that Hugh Masekela is a global jazz icon. He will not only be remembered by jazz fans in South Africa, but he will be remembered by jazz lovers in all corners of the earth.

Masekela lost his ten-year struggle against prostate cancer on 23 January 2018.

Masekela was a struggle stalwart. It is appropriate therefore that his final resting place is near fellow struggle stalwarts Kerapetse Kgositsile and Ahmed Kathrada.

Besides being an outstanding trumpeter, he also played the piano, was a flugelhornist, cornetist, composer and singer. Masekela was an exceptionally talented human being. One of the things that stand out is the countless hours he must have spent practising, and rehearsing to master his skills in each of these areas.

This begs the question, as HR practitioners, do we spend enough time mentoring and encouraging young employees to practice, spend a lot of time to ensure that their skills are top drawer? With so much job-hopping there is a real danger that employees may not develop the necessary breadth of skills. There is a huge divide between being able to do the basics of a task, and being an expert.

I was ‘blown away’ when I realised how many world-greats he had performed with – Miriam Makeba (he was married to her for a short period of time), Paul Simon, the Manhattan Brothers, Janis Joplin, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and U2, to name but a few. All of these achievements attest to the fact that his skills were world-class. I’m not convinced that as individuals, or as leaders and managers we do enough to insist that everything our team does is perfect, world-class. We need to raise the bar, support and encourage our people to be exceptional, to be young men and women who can take their place, hold their own against the best in their field anywhere in the world.

Masekela was born in Witbank, Mpumalanga and came from a modest background, and yet he became a global icon. Far too often young people believe that unless they are born with a silver spoon in their mouths, they will never amount to anything. In every encounter with young people we need to instil self-belief, the need to create a bold personal vision and a willingness to do whatever it takes to make their mark in the world. You cannot achieve greatness, unless you dream big.

As leaders, managers, HR practitioners we need to make a concerted effort to spot talent, mentor talent and create opportunities for young talent. Father Trevor Huddlestone, recognised Masekela’s talent and bought him his first trumpet. Masekela may not have become one of the world’s greatest trumpeters if Father Huddlestone had not believed in him bought him a trumpet and encouraged him, even to the point of assisting him to study at the London Guildhall of Music after he went into exile in 1961. Here, it should be remembered that as a Black man, all South African Music Schools were closed to him.  Do you have a strategy to actively identify talent, to nurture talent and to develop talent fully?

Maskela later went to study at the Manhattan School of Music thanks to a scholarship from Harry Belafonte. A willingness to want to learn more, a commitment to life-long learning is critical to success. Are you and your team committed to lifelong learning? Even if your walls are covered with framed degrees, there is always capacity to learn something new.

Another important lesson is to learn from the greats. Masekela was tutored by the likes of Miles Davies, Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. I would like to encourage young men and women in the workplace to find a role model at a very senior level, and ask them to mentor you. Actively seek out the best, the most knowledgeable person you know.

It’s also extremely important to build a strong personal brand. Masekela excelled at this – his signature Afro-jazz sound was unique. What is your unique brand, your unique value proposition in the workplace?

The world has lost an exceptional talent. With over 40 albums to choose from we will never forget Masekela. I will remember him with great fondness, whenever I hear Grazing in the grass playing

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