Hugh Masekela UK tour

After a top slot at the London Jazz Festival, South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela heads West to Bristol’s Colston Hall. Neil McKim was there.

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‘Such a small toilet for such a big hall’ says the graffiti in the Gents toilets of the gleaming new-look Colston Hall foyer, which has just had a staggering £20m-refit. They might have overlooked something here. No wonder the women passing the line of queuing blokes in the interval were looking pleased. Justice at last!
 
And the subject of justice wasn’t just confined to the foyer. Trumpeter Hugh Masekela, legendary for his fight against the injustice of apartheid in South Africa – which through music he helped campaign against while in exile – provided an excellent set, proving he still has gritty political bite and humour aplenty.
 
After a disarming opener, a bit on the smooth jazz side, he started getting funkier with his mid-’70s track ‘The Boy’s Doin’ It’ and then, bringing out his trademark cowbells, he launched into classic ’60s hits such as ‘Ha Le Se Le Ki Khanna’ and US chart-topper ‘Grazin’ In The Grass’. His band, virtually all from South Africa, were on familiar ground as they created some stunning township jazz: guitarist Cameron Ward introducing the riffs, with Fana Zulu effortlessly thumping his six-string bass and Randall Skippers vamping on keyboards; Masekela himself, showing how he can captivate an audience with his vocals, dancing, and uplifting trumpet sound. He perfectly honed his impression of a train for ‘Stimela’, where he recreates – through chugging and whistle sounds and narration – the ‘cursed’ steam train that brought migrant coal miners to Johannesburg.
 
Last time I saw Masekela perform was in Cape Town, when he was celebrating his 70th birthday in front of an audience of thousands and he played out with a song called ‘Khawuleza’ (an apartheid-era song of protest). It was spectacular – the crowds went out into the streets still singing and dancing to the song after he’d finished his set. I could see it must have a deep resonance to the audience of South Africans.
 
Fortunately, at this Bristol concert, Masekela had time to explain the song’s significance to him – growing up in the township of Witbank, while on watch at his grandmother’s shebeen [bar]:
 
‘Khawuleza – it means “Mama, hide the booze, the police are coming!” ’
 
Neil McKim
 
Hugh Masekela features in a broadcast of Radio 3's World Routes at 3pm on Saturday 20 November. This is a chance to hear his concert from the London Jazz Festival
 
Related Link: Meet the Artist