“Thumbs on keypads, transfixed through AMOLED – colored glass they gazed upon the trumpeter.” – Teju Cole #SmallFates
His scarlet shirt untucked, he motioned to the spirits with his cow bell. Back and forth his black silky waistcoat played catchup swaying as he did. A floral silk tie loosely tied – an ode to the formality of the event and a call on those in the audience with theirs still firmly clasping the top buttons of their shirts to let loose. The detailed woven pink plumage on the tie hard to decipher amidst Hugh’s motion and the lights.
This was atmospheric jazz. Hard to tell whether it was the night’s warm haze or the light gathering of spray from the nearby Zambezi. They slowly turned into beads rolling down the sides of Masekela’s contorted face. He felt the music like few else could. His band on key-for-key and crescendo or interlude his smile, his eyes and the crease in his chin couldn’t help but be expressive.
He hadn’t even played two notes into his trumpet and the crowd were starting to gather at his feet. From the foot of the stage he could make them out. The lights bright leaving him playing to an audience he “believed” were there.
He crinkled his brow to the piano, shook his hips to the bassline and bit his lip as the lead guitarist changed key. All while taking a breath before he taught the trumpet the reason why its smelter took love and care to shape it.
Eyes shut, lips pursed and leaning into the bass guitar, feet tap themselves while a soul patch marks the drummer’s preference for a bristly statement. Arms raised in acclamation ahead of the hammering down of rippling percussion.
He played Kaveleza – an ode to the Zimbabweans and his history in Victoria Falls. Composed by Dorothy Masuka a light dust rose from the sparsely grass-covered base of the stage as nostalgia and half-filled glassed made room for close encounters of the grinding kind. Interrupted only by attempts to join Hugh in singing the words.
The Victoria Falls bridge, visible in the distance had been lit as part of the ceremony festivities and it glowed – turning the dark distance into an ember of emerald, crimson and violet. The lights on stage did their mechanical best to match that, showering the audience in a nighttime sunshine.
As songs gave room for interludes where breaths could be caught, Hugh tried to discern more about his less vocal audience. Call-and-response and skits from Soweto upbringing and universal tales of the African struggle to hear their engagement. They were an instrument themselves and he knew just how to play. Vibrato chants to look to each other and make a sound poking chins forward as one let out a hurried set of melodic breaths proving popular.
“You’re too good for me,” he exclaimed to raucuous response. Who, us? the audience took flattery well for this many glasses of whiskey and wine. His dance moves done to bring them close and the singing to keep them near.
“I’m taking you on tour with me,” he confessed “I’m sending them to your homes – trucks, buses – with bags and fake passports.”
In between songs with what is typically an applause or a perceptible motion of dance seen from the stage in between the bright flare of the stage lights was instead a stationary audience. Umbilical chords of iPads, iPhones turning each one into an Android. So intent on not missing his every word and octave it meant forgetting to dance. He charmed them – watching him through AMOLED and Gorilla Glass. Posturing and giving one-handed claps while holding steady to record.
Transience forgotten, melodies remembered and forever archived. He gave his present while they sacrificed his presence to keep it.
They forgot to dance to Hugh Masekela.