By Evan Serpick
At age 68, South Africa’s Hugh Masekela is still one of the most thrilling live performers around. The flugelhorn master and bandleader has been a world-music hero since the ‘60s, when he came to L.A., recorded with The Byrds and Paul Simon, played Monterey Pop, and, in 1968, had a number-one hit with “Grazing in the Grass” — one of the only instrumental tracks to reach such heights.
Rooted in African rhythms and American jazz, Masekela has maintained a cultish following through his years and his new album, Live at the Market Theater, explains why: The clarion, confident call of his horn explodes on track after track, from celebratory songs like “Grazing” to political tracks like “Mandela.” The two-disc live set from San Francisco is an excellent introduction to Masekela’s music, lacking only the joy of seeing the spry, smiling musician create it.
To celebrate the album’s release, Masekela played a show aboard a cruise ship circling Manhattan Friday night. He wowed the ecstatic crowd on extended versions of “The Boy’s Doin’ It” and “Stimela” — a hypnotic tune about African coal miners dedicated to “working people over the world.” The South African ex-pats in the crowd in particular exploded upon seeing the aging jazzman work his considerable backside to the music, making Masekela perhaps the only 68-year-old who can inspire a dozen young South African women to scream in excitement at his every move.