When I heard that Hugh Masekela was performing at Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch Summer Concert this past weekend, I knew there was only one thing to do: jump up and down for a bit, twirl a little more and then call up some friends to see if we could obtain tickets. I knew getting a ticket would be a close call, Masekela’s name is worth its weight in gold and a rare performance at a place like Kirstenbosch would be sure to sell out quickly.
So the hustle for a ticket began. It did not go well. Getting a ticket was proving to be next to impossible for some reason or other.
After four desperate days of hustling, a ticket miraculously made its way to me. I was going to see the legendary South African artist in person. Not on television, not on my little netbook screen – live. In person.
For many people of my generation, we respect people like Hugh Masekela because of his past achievements, because we know, or have been told about the man and what his music is about. Few of us can actually connect with the music or the person in the way that some people, our parents for example, did and still do to this day. The respect is kind of mandatory, it is expected. Just like how people today cannot say anything about soccer legends like Pele or Maradona. Whether you have seen them play or not, it is sacrilegious to consider them anything but great. Masekela is of that ilk; respect comes standard.
I do not respect things just because I am told I must, I like making the judgment call myself. So when Masekela took the stage at Kirstenbosch, I got to size up the man myself.
He is fierce. That’s the first thing I can say about the man. He is fierce. He doesn’t sing so much as attack the microphone. He completely dominates it. Even at his age, 73, he has the energy of a much younger man and when he approaches a microphone, it is with a purpose: to sing, to croon softly, to shout and to entertain.
He is as funny as he is fierce too. The man has a sly humour onstage, and he is capable of igniting a crowd that has never heard his music before. Whether he is singing or talking to the crowd, you cannot help but listen to Masekela. The Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts can sometimes put you to sleep. Let’s be honest, not all of the artists that perform at the gigs are worth it, and not all of them have music that suits the occasion. It comes as no surprise then that I spent past summer concerts eating or napping in the sun. Not at Masekela’s though.
From the first moment he walked on stage, all you could do was look at him. He moves around the stage with a presence and grace performers 5o years younger only dream of possessing. Through and through, Masekela is the coolest cat I have seen on stage in my young life. Chris Martin of Coldplay was demonically entertaining when he was in Cape Town. He jumped up and down the stage, he ran from one end to the other and he whipped the 60 000 fans who had filled the Greenpoint Stadium into a frenzy. But he wasn’t cool. Masekela is cool. He is the guy you want to cast in a Windhoek Lager ad when you are about to buy a pink drink.
Stage presence aside, Masekela’s music is off the Richter. It’s jazz, but on steroids. It’s fast and slow at the same time. I am not a music connoisseur (at least when it comes to jazz), so I will refrain from making a fool of myself by trying to describe it any further. Suffice it to say that his music makes you want to move, it makes you want to dance and when the moment is right, it makes you stop and think.
And if you are old enough, it makes you reminisce.
You get a weird joy from seeing Masekela perform. Perhaps it is because he is part of a dying breed, a group of musicians the likes of which we will never see again, people like Brenda Fassie, Lucky Dube or Miriam Makeba, legends who did so much for South African music and the country as a whole. Maybe it is just that his music is damn good. Maybe it is because you might not see him perform again.
I, for one, am quite happy that I got to see the man do a live performance.
Hugh Masekela is definitely from a tribe named Cool.Location: Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cape Town. Photographer: Rémy Ngamije.