Words by Kayceman

Hugh Masekela :: 05.12.06 :: Yoshi's :: Oakland, CA

Hugh Masekela
You know when you are in the presence of a legend. When someone like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Femi Kuti, Ornette Coleman, or Bruce Springsteen walks into a room, there is an unmistakable energy in the air. Genuine, historical greatness of this magnitude is impossible to deny. It's hard to say exactly what you feel when you stand near it, but you know it when you feel it.

When Hugh Masekela took the stage at the tiny, intimate, famous Yoshi's Jazz Club in Oakland, CA, the capacity-plus crowd was aglow with the knowledge that they were in the presence of an absolute legend. In fact, in all my years of attending shows at Yoshi's, I have never felt so much anticipation brewing in the air. Beyond his Afro-jazz mastery of the flugelhorn and trumpet and in addition to his vocal prowess, Hugh Masekela is and always has been a freedom fighter. His music has become part of the soundtrack of South Africa's fight against Apartheid. After being sent into exile in 1961, Masekela rose to stardom across the globe, performing with the likes of Fela Kuti, Abdullah Ibrahim, Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, Herb Alpert, and Dizzy Gillespie, to name a few. As the crowd sat enraptured by Masekela, one could sense his experience of forty years as one of the world's greatest performers. Immediately one is captivated by his easy stage presence. Strolling out from behind the stage as the music of his amazing band was already underway, it was impossible not to smile as Masekela stepped front and center to complete a soaring three-part vocal harmony.

Hugh Masekela
After warming up the room with a creamy, rich vocal display, Masekela's eight-piece band (Hugh on trumpet/ flugelhorn/vocals, guitar, bass, drums, two percussionists, two keyboards) dove into a deep, Herbie Hancock-style groove that had folks up front wiggling in their seats and shouting approval. Somewhere in this pulsating funk number, the shirtless percussionist took an impressive lead, playing off the bass and working around the drums. It's always a joy to see a musician in Yoshi's (a very upper-crust, high-society club) with no shirt or no shoes. It's sort of like when I used to go see Lee "Scratch" Perry and he'd be smoking huge joints the whole time. It reminds us that no matter what might be considered "appropriate" or even "legal" for us regular folk, the same rules do not apply for the stars who supply the music of our lives. And consequently, it only makes you admire the musician more when he can behave in the precise manner he desires (in this case wearing no shirt) and yet not come off as pretentious or arrogant. He is simply releasing himself of the silly rules society has created. It's a subtle, silent statement that says, "I don't care what you say or think. This is who I am, and this is how I dress." In a way, this slight act of defiance is a microcosm of what Hugh Masekela has always done, taking a stand and fighting for equal rights.

Hugh Masekela
As Masekela led his band into a call-and-response selection between the band and the audience including the words: Africa Unite, we were again reminded of one of society's most disgusting displays in all of recorded history: Apartheid. At this point, the predominantly black crowd was standing, chanting, singing, stomping, and dancing. Yoshi's is a sit-down jazz club, yet Masekela had them room moving like a late-50s juke joint. It was celebratory, but not without a purpose. As Masekela spoke in his beautiful, soothing accent about Africa's need to unite, workers dying in diamond mines, the struggle for freedom, and the work still needing to be done, it was apparent that we weren't just witnessing a great jazz performance; we were watching a revolutionary in action. We were in the presence of a legend.

Hugh Masekela By Paul Natkin
Yet what truly sets Masekela apart from the plethora of other remarkable performers with a social agenda is his impeccable musical ability. His work as a band leader and vocalist is only matched by his skill on the horn. As a pioneer in African jazz, he incorporates the dynamic scope of pre-electric Miles Davis, the soul of John Coltrane, and the constant undercurrent of Fela Kuti's Afrobeat. The first time I saw Hugh Masekela, I stood motionless for almost the entire evening and I was eventually moved to tears. On this night I found myself rejoicing, singing, and laughing. There are few performers alive who are as impressive as Masekela.

Hugh Masekela has done more than just make amazing music; he has altered history and affected humanity. It's Masekela's virtuosic talent and the manner in which he has chosen to use it that make him one of the most important musicians of the past fifty years and an absolute living legend.

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[Published on: 6/15/06]

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All Loving Liberal White Guy starstarstarstarstar Thu 6/15/2006 11:59AM
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All Loving Liberal White Guy

FUCKIN A!!! hugh masekela is da man!!!!

kevfro starstarstarstarstar Thu 6/15/2006 04:16PM
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Right on Kayceman!!! I had the priveledge of catching Hugh @ Yoshi's a couple of years back and you fully captured the spirit of his perfromance in your story. Thanks.

worldbeats starstarstarstarstar Fri 6/16/2006 12:51PM
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Hugh Masekela is a living legend! He's like fine wine - gets better with age. His stage presence and dance moves are unparalled. If you love great music - catch up with Hugh!

vinylanimyl starstarstarstarstar Sat 6/17/2006 08:35AM
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I totally agree. I saw Hugh recently in Miami, the show was phenomenal.

dcpruyn starstarstarstarstar Wed 6/21/2006 08:24PM
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glad Jambase is 'in the know,' i remember being introduced to him when seeing flashes of him in the "Monterey Pop Festival" movie that came out in the late 60's. and thinking that his sound was timeless. i'm sure his performance then warped some minds permanantly(in a good way). i had the priveledge of seeing him a JazzFest 2 years in row...Congo Square was in awe--i recommend to people out there the doubleCD entitled "The Lasting Impressions of Ooga Booga."

dcpruyn starstarstarstarstar Wed 6/21/2006 08:26PM
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i'm from New Orleans yo! if ya don't already know davey

EVILFUNK starstarstarstarstar Mon 7/3/2006 10:58AM
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i heard alot of hugh growing up....happily suprised to see him mentioned here. Cheese fans should check him for shure!