Hugh Masekela – Review
By Dave Simpson
“When I look at the time I have left,” Hugh Masekela told the Guardian last week, “I have to hurry up.” This may explain why the great South African trumpeter is such a bundle of energy on stage. Apparently aged 71 (you would never believe it), he performs for two hours, causing much amusement with his “man climbing imaginary rope” dancing. He has even learned a Newcastle dialect. “Hello Gits Heed!” he bellows, embarking on a surreal tale of how he was actually a Geordie who was swept up by a storm to a land of lions and walruses. “In the townships, one of the greatest delicacies was a goat’s head, so I was very excited to come here,” he continues, to uproar.
The same indefatigable energy accompanies his playing, as his remarkable tones power a mostly young band through jazz, funk, rock and soul and the Afrobeat/hi-life that inspired everything from Paul Simon’s Graceland to Vampire Weekend. The grooves are so infectious that even the venue’s stewards are dancing.
Masekela seems to speak through his horn – conveying every imaginable sound and emotion – and uses his voice in a similar way. The extraordinarily intense Coal Train sees him mimicking the steam engines that carried forced labour to Johannesburg, complete with a perfect “toot toot!” Apartheid may be no more, but his entertaining, educational songs resonate with tales of jailed campaigners. He touches on the environment and this week’s student riots, joking how “noisy” the British are, before mentioning people who are “running from men and women who they voted into power and have now forgotten about them”.
But he doesn’t linger, storming into Bob Marley’s Africa Unite, asking if “Gits Heed” would like some more.