Hugh Masekela review – 4/5 stars
Ronnie Scott’s, London
At 77, Masekela still likes to surprise in this memorable return to the club he first played in the 80s.
‘This is a wonderful nightmare,” said Hugh Masekela, as he looked out at the Ronnie Scott’s crowd, “because nothing has changed.”
He first played here in the 80s, when he bravely insisted on a smoking ban. These days he concentrates on concert halls and festivals, so watching South Africa’s most celebrated musician return to this intimate venue 16 years after he last played here was a rare treat.
At 77, Masekela still likes to surprise. The set contained no songs from his forthcoming album No Borders; instead he concentrated on reworking old favourites.
Chileshe now began with a gently slinky township riff from his five-piece band, against which he demonstrated first his flugelhorn work and then his even more thrilling and versatile vocals.
When he moved on to Market Place, he switched from lyrical passages to bursts of rapid-fire scat in which he traded phrases with his remarkable guitarist Cameron John Ward.
Then came a thrilling treatment of Stimela, his pained lament for migrant workers, treated with train noises and other vocal effects, and a rousing, theatrical reworking of Fela Kuti’s Lady that switched from Afrobeat to a rock guitar workout.
There were no lectures about the state of the world or South Africa, but the finale was a reminder of earlier, more optimistic days, with a treatment of his Mandela tribute Bring Him Back Home that had the audience on their feet. It was a memorable return.