The audience swayed between listening in awed silence to singing, dancing and clapping, as Mr Masekela – considered one of jazz’s greatest horn players – filled the hall with his warm and energetic playing.
Mr Masekela is a South African musician of legendary stature, having been at the heart of South African music for over half a century. His music illustrates the diverse ethnic culture that his country is home to. An outspoken advocate for civil rights on both sides of the Atlantic, he has spent his career pushing both social and musical boundaries and continues to speak out for his country’s people and their culture.
As part of a week of activites organised to mark Commonwealth Day and its theme for 2012, ‘Connecting Cultures’, the ‘Celebrating the Commonwealth’ concert offered a glimpse of the rich culture and creativity the modern Commonwealth has to offer.
The host for the evening, comedian and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli, said: “This evening epitomises everything the Commonwealth is about, bringing a diverse range of talents together.”
The audience was lifted to their feet by Mr Masekela’s singing that undulated between a soft and deep resonance. Each crescendo and beat change in the music was reflected in his facial expressions.
He played and danced alongside each band member, before singing to the cheering crowd and encouraging their participation.
“I’m taking you with us everywhere we are going,” he told the audience as they joined in.
“This could be your night to break out and let it rip. We know there’s people in here who’ve never screamed before so you’re about to change your whole life. Don’t bring down the ceiling,” he joked.
Joining him on stage were his band members: Cameron Ward on guitar; Randal Skippers on keyboards; Fana Zulu on bass; Francis Manneh Fuster on percussion; and Lee Roy Sauls on drums.
A child bounced to the rhythm produced on the fugelhorn as Mr Masekela filled the hall with its playful sound. Heads and bodies nodded and swayed to the beat.
“Surely you’ve had enough now?” he asked the audience.
“NO,” they responded.
The evening ended on old South African wedding songs with the entire crowd dancing, singing, clapping and waving together in unison.
Mr Masekela dedicated his performance to people looking for peace in their own countries and those affected by natural disasters.
“If it’s not too late, try to think about that [nature] and consider treating your environment a little better than you’ve been doing,” he added.
Preceding Mr Masekela was 28-year-old London vocalist Zara McFarlane, a rising star of the British jazz scene of Jamaican heritage.
With her band, Ms McFarlance danced as she sang vocals steeped in jazz with an undercurrent of rich, contemporary soul.
The audience was captivated by her voice, smoothly undulating between alto and soprano, and band members’ energetic solos.
Vijay Krishnarayan, Deputy Director, Commonwealth Foundation, said: “Tonight’s concert was a wonderful success. Hugh and Zara made from an impressive line up: two formidable artists engaging a packed house with rousing performances in celebration of the start of Commonwealth Week. We’re delighted to have had this opportunity to share a glimpse of the creative talent the Commonwealth has to offer and the power of culture as a force for social change.”