Concert review: Masekela delves into South Africa for performance

Hugh Masekela
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Rick Nowlin

Hugh Masekela, known as a jazz trumpeter, came to the New Hazlett Theater Sunday night as part of the Kente Arts Alliance "Africa Calling" series. And he brought a slice of Mother Africa with him.

Mr. Masekela, who played only flugelhorn during the show, spent much of the concert singing, chanting and even dancing -- pretty impressive for someone who turns 75 on Friday -- in the style of his native South Africa. His crack band -- made up of South Africa musicians except percussionist and Sierra Leone native Francis Fuster -- was not only instrumentally tight but also delivered delicious vocal harmonies when the time called for them. Guitarist Cameron Ward, jokingly referred to as the "baby" of the band, was especially terrific.

It would be hard to single out any one moment, possibly because much of the material would have been obscure to all but Mr. Masekela's most ardent fans, but Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," albeit done in an Afrobeat style, proved memorable. The following tune "Stimela," during which he used a lot of train sounds, was a recollection of the trains that brought workers from all over southern Africa to work -- read: be exploited -- in the gold mines of South Africa. He always has been as much an activist as musician.

Of course, Mr. Masekela had to do his best-known tune "Grazin' in the Grass," a No. 1 hit in 1968. He harmonized on the lead line with keyboardist Randall Skippers, who offered a beautiful piano coda at the end. He also pulled out an eponymous tribute to his late countryman Nelson Mandela that allowed everyone in the band to stretch out.

The dance party that had been brewing all evening finally kicked up with the encore of "Rekpete," during which Mr. Masekela encouraged folks to get up and move. About 20 audience members, mostly women, did just that in front of the bandstand.