John Kani on how Hugh Masekela’s music has uplifted him during the pandemic

John Kani says his passion for SA jazz kept his spirit hopeful during the pandemic.
John Kani says his passion for SA jazz kept his spirit hopeful during the pandemic.
Image: Gallo Images/Oupa Bopape

Acting legend and playwright John Kani has revealed that SA jazz music has been his saving grace during the pandemic and that the late Hugh Masekela's music in particular has been a great source of hope for him.

Speaking to comedian Tumi Morake as part of the BBC World Service festival, John opened up about the art that has inspired him during the lockdown.

John said when Covid-19 first broke out, he still had two weeks left in a sold-out London run of Kunene and the King, his play about the legacy of apartheid. He explained how its sudden cancellation affected him and how it was SA jazz that uplifted him.

“I have about 450 jazz long play 33 LP, the long ones, and I sit down and listen to music and close my eyes and interact with the art form of other people. Now, when I listen to Hugh Masekela, for example, oh, he's a brother.

"Hugh's music  was focused on assisting us to build a better nation and to be a better people. A man who gave up all the glamour of Hollywood and never forgot that his main mandate was the liberation of SA. When I  think about him, I think there's still more work to be done,” John said.

John sang Hugh's praises for his undying activism and for always spreading a message of hope.

In addition to the hardships the pandemic has brought or worsened, the art industry suffered great losses in terms of contributors between 2020 and 2021, with the deaths of iconic actors including Sam Phillips and Menzi Ngubane.

John also recently spoke out about the loss of a great art institution, the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town, which closed its doors forever earlier this year.

Sad news. Another icon has fallen to Covid-19. The Fugard Theatre in Cape Town has closed its doors forever. It was in this theatre that my new play Kunene and the King had its South African premier in 2019. The lights are out, the curtain has fallen and no more applause.”

However hard the pandemic has been, there have also been celebrations for the legendary actor after being part of The Lion King, Beyoncé's award-winning visual film Black Is King  and selling out shows for Kunene and the King overseas before returning home.

Recently, the acting legend shared that Kunene and the King was among the best 10 plays in celebrating the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) 60th anniversary, something he said he was truly honoured by.


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