There are many things I remember about my late father and one of them is jazz. Particularly Hugh Masekela jazz which he has listened to as long as I can remember. My father worked away from home and only came once in a while but whenever he was around, Sunday mornings were Jazz mornings and therefore mostly Hugh Masekela mornings. When I was young, as much as my taste in music was not refined or even decided at all, I kept thinking “what on earth is this music and why can’t he play something else?” I can’t believe how things have changed and how much I’ve come to love and appreciate jazz as I’ve grown older.
I finally got to watch the Masekela whose music I grew up listening to as he was in the country last week courtesy of Safaricom Jazz Lounge. The venue was Uhuru Gardens on a chilly Nairobi night and I got there well in advance. I had time to socialize and grab some bitings and drinks before settling down for the show which kicked off in high gear with local bands as curtain raisers.
One of the most beautiful things that Safaricom Jazz is doing, other than of course bringing into the country Jazz musicians we could only ever have dreamed of watching live, is to expose and promote local jazz bands and artists too. In a past article, I wrote about a few of the local musicians I’ve come to learn about and love due to the annual jazz festival which is a brainchild of Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore. I’m getting to learn of more local and international jazz bands as I attend more of these events.
Another very beautiful thing about these concerts is that all proceeds go to the good course that is Ghetto Classics – a community program in Korogocho slums that works to nurture youngsters through music. This they do by instilling in them the life skills that go hand in hand with the discipline of studying the art of music.
As much as Hugh has been in the country many times before, Friday was the first time I was watching him live. Before then, my knowledge of him was limited to what I grew up listening to, and later YouTube. I was therefore very excited to go and watch him live and I was pleasantly surprised at the energy and liveliness of the aging musician. If my father was alive today, I’m very sure he would have attended the concert too.
The curtain raisers for Hugh Masekela were Mwai And The Truth Band and The Nairobi Horns Project. I had gotten an opportunity to watch them all perform at the Intercontinental Hotel Nairobi a few weeks earlier as they were unveiled and I could barely wait to watch them again at the main performance. They did not disappoint and I particularly fell in love with Nairobi Horns Project. They reminded me of how instantly I fell in love with Edward Parseen and Different Faces Band last year, as well as the Swahili Jazz Band the previous year. These three are by now my favourite local acts but I’m open to more.
Masekela who is a singer, composer, flugelhornist, cornetist and trumpeter all rolled into one came onto the stage with more energy than I expected from his 77-year-old self. He got down to his music with agility that would be the envy of many people half his age. No surprises there especially because as he has said in previous interviews, “in the arts you can play forever. Not like say football where you have a sell by date by late 20s”. He entertained us for more than an hour and the crowd still begged for more even when he was leaving the stage.
I’ve since come to learn a few things about Hugh Masekela as I continue to read and watch things about him online. For example, the star who was raised by his grandma is decidedly down to earth and refuses to be called a legend. In a few of his own words towards this,
“We’re all born naked. When someone goes around thinking they’re great, they’re actually beginning their end.”
“If you feel entitled you’re already in trouble. Soon as you think you’re arrived, that’s when you’re leaving.”
He’s also a freedom fighter and pan Africanist to the core and this came out clearly in his music which was in parts guttural, forceful and full of dance. I’d say for the most part actually. In between performances he stopped to drive the message of a unified Africa home, mostly in poetic manner.
“I try not to consider African borders. We have to think of the whole continent as our home because before 1886 these borders were not there”.
“The joke is that on Africa. We didn’t create the borders so we’re fighting over something we didn’t really create. Let us fucking stop acting like fools. It’s so much easier to enjoy the world together”.
“We found the earth a very peaceful place and as soon as we were put in we started behaving very badly especially towards each other”.
Hugh delivered a concert that was worth every minute that the attendees spent in the Nairobi cold. We spoke to a few of our friends and asked them what they liked about him and here is what they had to say.
@abuokari – His realness and Pan Africanism
@potentash – The way he can get down
@Njooro – He genuinely connects with his audience
@wamathai – His energy
@Nyokabiwainaina – The fact that he’s both a vocalist and an instrumentalist
@mwendesusu – His honesty
Yours truly – He’s such a poet. And he swears like a sailor too 😀
First of all the tickets were sold out before the event and there were none at the door. This to me signifies the love for Hugh Masekela and the growing love and acceptance for jazz in the country.
There was plenty of food and alcohol at the venue though the queues got rather long at some point. Maybe more food stations would do in future.
There were shuttle buses to cross people within Uhuru Gardens. Thoughtful gesture on the part of the organization especially for ladies who wore high heels. We all know how walking on grass in high heels.
A few more gems from Hugh Masekela
“I didn’t go into music to be famous or to be known. I went into music because I loved it – Hugh Masekela.
“Musicians who cannot play an instrument are not musicians. Maybe technologists”.
“There’s nothing amazing about electronic sound”.