The world woke up today to the shocking news of the passing of Hugh Masekela, one of the most consequential African musicians. An ebullient trumpeter and seasoned composer, Masekela created a brand of music that was a constant thorn in the flesh of the Apartheid regime, and with the likes of Mariam Makeba, he was in the vanguard of cultural warriors who hastened the end of that evil system. We will all miss the beauty of his sound and the urgency of his message.

Reproduced below is a poem I wrote for him some years ago.


Your trumpet pumps the wind
into a bold, metallic roar;
the universe throbs in awe
a worsted thunder whines
in a blue corner of the sky

   Waiting, waiting for the Rain

Sound-mortars pound the stage
with the leaping idiom of forgotten tribes
their nouns glistening in the vineyard
of your cheeks, their ululations
tremulous like scars of millennial wounds

   Waiting, waiting for the Rain

Legends of a mother’s wail at the grave of an only child
of the shaggling, shuggling trains of contract workers
of the ferocity of the whip in its boorish descent
of Sharpeville’s blunt accent in Soweto’s ears

   Waiting, waiting in the Rain

Memory hides in your song
in the sepia folds of a tune
which remembers its tongue
in the throat which bakes the bread
for our common feast

   Waiting, waiting for the Rain

Tambo’s trek, Mandela’s mandate
the lingering radiance of Ruth, ever First
the Spear of the Nation sailing,
sailing in the turbulent waters of your wind
beyond billboard rainbows, beyond, beyond…….

Waiting, waiting in the Rain

The Nile’s long-limbed gallop
the limpid lyric of the Limp, the Limp, the Limpopo
the Kukuruku’s tall whisper in the ears of the Kilimanjaro
the sun never sets in the empire of your song
your garland a forest of flowers and dappled murmurs

Waiting, waiting for the Rain

Through paths of Fire
through dry undulations and epidemics of doubt
in the wilderness of an epic still waiting for a telling tongue
your Voice rises from the valley like a swift eagle
teasing the slow generosity of the clouds

History’s bowl in our hands
We gather the Rain


Niyi Osundare
(from Pages from the Book of the Sun: New & Selected Poems, 2002, pp. 42-43

Niyi Osundare

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