South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela lived up to his billing and left the crowd crying out for more at an epic performance at the 7 Arts Theatre in Harare last Saturday night as he dished out some of his yesteryear hits that have anchored his legacy.There is no doubt that Bra Hugh as he has grown to be known over the years is in a league of his own, but the only undoing of the brilliant show was perhaps the small cosmopolitan but appreciative crowd at the up market venue.
While jazz music has a distinct following of the mature discerning music lovers, the entry charges of between $80 and $120 must have definitely affected the turnout considering the prevailing economic conditions.
The jazz maestro trumpeted his way onto the stage with the popular song Sossie and that set the scene for the evening as he took the audience through a musical journey that featured most of his great hits including “Stimela”, “Khawuleza”, “Happy Mama”, “Lady and Thanayi”.
Dressed in all back, the 76-year old jazz master was in good spirits, having received a doctorate in music from Rhodes University the previous day and jokingly said that he had been sent by South African students to bring back the remains of Cecil John Rhodes who was interred at Matopos.
Bra Hugh was saying this in apparent reference to the ongoing campaign to remove or destroy colonial-era monuments down south. While commending the youth for their activism, he said there were more pressing issues that needed tackling.
The night of jazz organised by Ngoma Nehosho also featured Victor Kunonga and the Peace Band whose presence on stage was very brief and a spirited performance by award winning afro pop ensemble Mokoomba.
The energy and vibe of lead vocalist Mathias Muzaza left the crowd in awe as they churned hit after hit bringing out some distinct sound that could easily be mistaken to be West African or some other modern day genre.
There is just something about the Mokoomba outfit that hails from the banks of the Zambezi River and the international flair that they have managed to bring to the group. They are definitely in a league of their own and their professionalism raises the Zimbabwe flag high.
Back to Bra Hugh, besides dazzling the audience with his trumpet, his versatility as a percussionist was striking on stage alongside the other four members of his group, especially for those familiar with his music. Forget about the language barrier, everyone was singing along to some of the lyrics with the Cape Tonian flair and even some of the empty seats were a blessing in disguise as people danced on without anyone complaining about blocking their view.
Considering that the jazz maestro has a significant following in this country that he claims to be his origins, the organisers should perhaps in future consider making him more accessible through lower cover charges and accessible venues.
It was not surprising that shortly after 11 pm many left 7 Arts grumbling that the show had “prematurely” ended as some sought alternative venues to wind down the night.
Bra Hugh is great and that does not take a jazz connoisseur to convince anyone, but even good things should be shared.