April 4, 2023

Meet MSM Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship recipient Kabelo Mokhatla (BM ’24)

Kabelo Mokhatla, originally from Kempton Park, South Africa, is studying jazz drumset at MSM with Kendrick Scott; he is one of six South African recipients of the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at MSM. He talks to us about carrying on the legacy of the trumpeter who is considered “the father of South African jazz.”

“‘Bra Hugh’ [as Masekela, an alumnus of MSM, is affectionately known] has always been an inspiration, not only to me, but to many,” says Kabelo, who is in his third year of undergraduate studies at MSM and is a recipient of the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship. The partnership between MSM, The ELMA Music Foundation, and Hugh Masekela Heritage Foundation provides a full tuition scholarship to six South African music students who have demonstrated an interest in the advancement of music consistent with Mr. Masekela’s legacy and vision.

Kabelo sat down with us to chat about the Scholarship, his time at MSM, and the upcoming MSM Jazz Orchestra Celebrates Jazz from South Africa concert at the prestigious Dizzy’s Club at Lincoln Center on May 2 and at Manhattan School of Music’s Neidorff-Karpati Hall on May 5 (the latter will be livestreamed).

Kabelo at Dizzy's Club, spring 2022

Tell us about your time at MSM; what have you been involved with here?

Kabelo: Being in the MSM community comes with the privilege of working and interacting with people/students worldwide. They are all great performers, and being surrounded by them positively affects me as a musician and a person.

I have had the privilege of working with renowned musicians and have been part of big concerts the school has hosted. I’ve also been in big-band cycles led by John Beasley, Jack Walrath, and Darcy James Argue. I’ve also had the privilege of leading the MSM Masekela Band, which played in the JEN Conference early this year in Florida and will be involved in more projects soon.

What does it mean to you to be a Masekela Scholar?

Kabelo: It gives me great joy and encouragement because this scholarship represents a vital cornerstone in my music-making. It prides me and inspires me to carry on the legacy of Hugh Masekela, and make proud of the work he has done for our people and heritage, which continues to cultivate my voice.

The 2022—23 Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship Recepients (l to r): Nhlanhla Mahlangu (BM '23), Zoe Molelekwa (BM '24), Kabelo Mokhatla (BM '24), Motswedi Modiba (BM '24), Daniel Petersen (BM '24), Lifa Arosi (BM '25), and Simon Nyivana (BM '25)

As a jazz musician, what does Hugh Masekela mean to you? How does he inspire you?

Kabelo: Oh man, ‘Bra Hugh has always been an inspiration, not only to me but many. Unfortunately, I never had the privilege of meeting him in person, but I did spiritually and through listening to his music. A few days before being admitted to MSM, he paid me a visit in my dreams, and we spoke for a long time, and it was an honor to be in his presence and receive the wisdom he shared.

His work and what he stood for inspire me to be true to myself, my culture, and my music.

You study with Kendrick Scott, what has it been like working with him?

Kabelo: Kendrick is someone who I have admired for years. To be in his presence and to receive information and wisdom from him still seems surreal. Every lesson has been informative and mind-opening. He continues to challenge me in ways I have never experienced before and has made me form an even deeper connection with the music.

“Being a recepient of this scholarship prides me and inspires me to carry on the legacy of Hugh Masekela, and make proud of the work he has done for our people and heritage, which has and continues to cultivate my voice.”

Hugh Masekela Scholarship recipient

Do you have any interesting summer plans? What are your long-term dreams or goals?

Kabelo: Besides spending time with my family and practicing. I’ll be making music in the US, in a few European countries, and in South Africa. I plan to release my album which was recorded in February entitled The Key To Authenticity. This project is inspired by the concept that when people are honest, they are truthful and transparent about their thoughts, feelings, and actions. So, ultimately, this helps them connect with others, build trust, be true to themselves and art, and foster more genuine relationships.

Why should people come and see the Masekela Scholars Big Band concert in May?

Kabelo: We will be showcasing the pride of South African music and giving an idea of what we have to offer as a people. It is unique and an experience I can’t put into words, and every time people listen, they connect and relate to our music. They are always at peace, inspired, and feel some form of energy that uplifts them.

Kabelo and the MSM Jazz Orchestra, Fall 2022

More information about the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship:

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