South African Music Legend, Hugh Masekala, Rocks Bucknell

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If you didn’t get the chance to attend Hugh Masekala’s concert this past Tuesday at the Weis Center, you really, really missed out. For those who don’t know, Hugh Masekala is a living legend -- a world-renowned flugelhornist, trumpeter, bandleader, composer, singer, and political activist who hails from South Africa.  He remains strongly connected with his South African roots, but his 5-decade musical career has brought him around the world to both perform and work with other legends such as Harry Belafonte, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder.  Other examples of his extraordinary accomplishments include a Grammy Award for his single “Jumping Jack Flash” and opening the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup Kick-Off Concert to a global audience.  His single “Bring Him Back Home” became and remains the anthem for Nelson Mandela’s world tour after his release from prison.  In honor of all of his influence in South Africa and internationally, President Zuma even honored him with the highest acclaim in South Africa: The Order of Ikamanga, which signifies achievements in the arts, culture, literature, music, journalism, and/or sports.

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Masekala’s concert wasn’t something you watched, or even listened to – it was something you experienced.  He performed literally as an embodiment of musical passion, possessed by his zeal for everything he played.  The show opened with 5 band members on stage, playing a hypnotic melody that consisted of a synthesized key-board, electric guitar and bass, and several different kinds of percussion including a standard drum set, Congo drums, and Temple Blocks.  The instrumentals picked up into a steady beat, and out came Mr. Hugh Masekala and his trumpet.  He began playing with ease and such a cool attitude, and eventually moved onto vocals with his raspy voice.  His performance began and concluded with an air of nonchalance – he and his band were in perfect harmony mentally and musically the entire time. They’d fade out simultaneously, then start up again all-together.  None of this seemed rehearsed, including his spontaneous dance moves (many of them reminiscent of the Dougie, by the way).  This lead to smiles, laughs, and head bobbing all around the room – even people like me, who weren’t familiar with Masekala’s work prior to the show, were completely absorbed in his pure musicality.

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He opened his second song with a brief introduction, stating how the song “just attacked me one afternoon,” and that “the world is here for all of us to share, so don’t be greedy, and let’s have a good time.”  Accordingly, he proceeded to start with a mellow melody on the trumpet with a flute echoing him.  He soon put his trumpet down and began to sway, singing the lyrics to his song, “Marketplace.”  He would sing out some lyrics to the audience, and we’d echo him back – by the end of the song, people all around the room were out of their seats and dancing shamelessly to the 5-minute guitar solo.  This amazing crowd interaction lasted throughout the entire show, Mr. Masekala asking the crowd to repeat him, and jokingly asking if we were sure we didn’t come from Capetown, South Africa, too.  At one point during his performance, I even saw a couple get out of their seats and move to a corner in the Weis Center so that they could dance together – Masekala’s influence on an audience is undeniable, he brings an uncommon sense of ease to his performances, allowing it to spread across and throughout his listeners.

As mentioned earlier, Hugh remains strongly in-touch with his South African roots. This was clear during the concert, as he often took time between sets to speak to the audience about he and his band’s background as well as how thankful we should all be.  He spoke of the recent natural disasters that have taken place all over the globe, “Perhaps if our species, humans, were more reverent towards nature, they [natural disasters] wouldn’t have happened.”  He explained how we don’t own the universe, and reminded us of how fortunate we all were to be here.  He then proceeded to introduce his band members one by one, Francis Fuster on percussion, Abednigo “Fana” Zulu on Bass, Randal Skippers on the Keyboard, Lee-Roy Sauls on Drums, and Cameron Ward on the Guitar.  The way in which he presented each member made it clear that he cared sincerely and deeply for all of them, and their authentic smiles in response reciprocated the same.  Masekala has undoubtedly earned his title as a South African legend; he sticks to his morals and proudly imparts them onto others, both in his music and regular speech.  If you were lucky enough to catch his performance last Tuesday, then I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. If not, you can get a glimpse of what it was like below.

Hugh Masekala, Grazing in the Grass (live)

Hugh Masekala Performing at the FIFA 2010 Kick-Off Celebration Concert