By Tariq Luthun | The Daily Tar Heel
The jiving, smooth-stepping groove-machine known as Hugh Masekela called the Memorial Hall stage his home on Monday night.
And the trumpeter and civil rights activist combined his musical talent and winning personal charm to deliver an enthusiastic evening.
Following his band, Masekela arrived on stage in humble fashion, clad in a simple cotton shirt. With a humble bow, Masekela began his evening of music.
From then on, Masekela was both musically intense and playfully friendly. After hearing the applause from an anticipatory crowd, he grabbed a cowbell and began countering the beat that his band had played to open the show.
Later in the opening piece, the crowd saw Masekela switch instruments mid-song, from the cowbell to his specialty, the trumpet.
He rotated through a total of five instruments over the course of the night, primarily switching between the trumpet and cowbell.
For the most part, the stage was set up in a seemingly traditional jazz-band motif with percussion, smooth guitarist and bassist and a gifted keyboard player.
The first shift away from this was the conga drums neighboring the snare sets. As the night progressed, Masekela ventured beyond traditional-sounding jazz as he incorporated more traditional African sounds through the use of instruments such as the cabasa.
Masekela himself was seemingly flawless. The wise and talented musician blew, drummed and danced — and gave the nearly full house in Memorial Hall lots of infectious grins.
Not afraid to laugh at himself, Masekela joked with the audience, threatening to take them with him if “they weren’t so expensive.”
He urged the crowd to enjoy their night, but to send a prayer out to all those “catching hell” from government oppression or natural disaster.
Prior to the last song, Masekela credited his fellow band members and then spun a fabled version of his autobiography.
He said that he was originally from Memphis, Tenn., fell into a river and eventually ended up in the Gulf before drifting off to a coast of South Africa, where he was taken up by an elderly couple. The crowd roared with laughter.
The show was spectacular. While Masekela was the main draw, his band had solos of their own — especially the keyboard player Randal Skippers, from Cape Town, South Africa, who put on a memorable performance.
There was little wrong with the performance. Masekela’s deep, raspy sound was pleasing, but sometimes too low, as the singer tried to reach depths he may have been better-suited for in his youth.
Masekela ended the show with a piece that revolved around the term ‘calauza,’ which literally translates to ‘Hide the Hooch,’ following a folk tale of his youth.
Chapel Hill saw a giant take the stage Monday night, and this musical master not only embraced the stage, but made it his own as he befriended the audience with his musical might.
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