Boys Doing it: A Celebration of the life and music of Hugh Masekela
(Royal Festival Hall, 18 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Mike Collins)
Was anyone sitting down by the end of the evening? Maybe a few, but the Royal Festival Hall was mainly a sea of swaying, clapping, smiling party go-ers, never mind those pesky seats. Bra Hugh may be gone, but his sound lives on, the messages of hope and passion still ring out, his last great band still know how to ramp it up and it’s still more or less impossible not to be swept up in the infectious, irresistible, exuberant joyfulness of the music.
The evening was billed as a celebration and it was an immersion in the Masekela oeuvre, powered by the band that had toured the world with him right up to the months before his death at the beginning of this year.
They slid straight into a gently propulsive, trademark Masekela groove, as the stage filled up, first with Complete, backing and lead singers constantly rotating, Sibongile Khumalo joined them and the band weaved through funk-tinged grooves and Afro-beat with the cycling, foot shuffling, liquid pulse of township never far away. Masekela classics ramped up the emotion, Market Place had everyone clapping and the band trading phrases, Bring him Back Home got the whole hall on their feet for the first time. Selema Masekela joined them on stage for Stimela, the first chanted phrase ‘There is a train that comes from Zambia and Zimbabwe’ like an incantation, raising cheers, leading them into an epic extended version. It was non-stop from there on in, percussionist Francis Fuster, perhaps the longest standing collaborator on the stage, his association with Masekela going back 40 years, introduced Grazing in the Grass and the momentum was unstoppable.
If it was an evening re-visiting the experience of a live Masekela set, there was nothing maudlin or sentimental about it although there was plenty of emotion. It felt like a celebration as well as joyful remembrance and there was no forgetting the firm, campaigning voice that was his as well.
An unexpected bonus was catching the Royal Academy of Music Big Band on the free stage before the gig. They played a set with South African singer Tutu Puoane paying tribute to the legendary Miriam Makeba. It was an intoxicating set and the perfect complement to the very special evening that unfolded in the main hall.
Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman
Categories: Live reviews