BWW Reviews: MASEKELA and MAHLESELA are Magnificent

Hugh Masekela
Broadway World

By Leigh Byron

Music legends Hugh Masekela and Vusi Mahlesela thrilled the audience in a one-night only performance at the McCarter Theater Center in Princeton, NJ, on February 25 with two hours of music, oral history, and inspiration. The musicians are touring in celebration of twenty years of democracy in South Africa since the end of apartheid.

From the start, the spirit of ubunto, meaning human kindness, was threaded among the songs, stories, and words. Masekela and Mahlesela complemented the performance with narrations that gave additional context to the many South African Freedom songs they performed. In addition to providing the audience with a thrilling musical performance, we were privileged to hear a presentation of oral history as well.

The energy in the theater was evidenced by impromptu dancing in the side aisles by many audience members and by those who moved in the seats throughout much of the performance. When Mahlesela, known as "The Voice," performed Say Africa, it produced the same thrill and engagement it did as when he performed it at the FIFA 2010 World Cup Kick-Off Concert.

Mahlesela and Masekela talked about how their different styles seamlessly meshed as a result of their singing and playing these Freedom Songs, among others, long before they were professional musicians. The music genuinely is in them and, in the same fashion as these legends meshed, so did the musical numbers throughout the night.

While there were light moments and happy moments, we were reminded of the unfair nature of apartheid, and how music offered a vehicle for messages of hope and the capacity of an oppressed population to stay ahead of its oppressors.

No Masekela concert would be complete without his mega-hit, Grazing in the Grass. We were all on our feet, "boogying almost like 1968," as Masekela put it, recognizing the Summer of Love is part of the spirit of ubuntu. We can dig it.