The Darfur Consortium

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Masekela brings message for people of Darfur to jazz fest

(July 19, 2023) THE SOLD-OUT crowd for Hugh Masekela’s concert in the Mainstage Tent on Monday night at the TD Canada Trust Atlantic Jazz Festival was on its feet and cheering even before the legendary South African trumpeter and champion of the oppressed played a single note.They were there for the fun side of Masekela, for the hop and rhythm of Grazing in the Grass and other pop hits with their gratifying musical whiffs of the South African townships, of reggae and Brazilian tango. And he obliged. By the end of the second song — and they were long songs with the kind of repetition that bears many repeats because the conga, drum and keyboard accents make it impossible to sit still — a quarter to a third of the crowd were dancing in front of the stage.

After a while the pressure of numbers allowed little movement other than a shuffle from foot to foot.But the crowd seriously misread Masekela’s intent. This was no salsa band. "I hope the human species can make our voices heard versus oppression in Darfur," he said. "On behalf of the people of Darfur I am begging you that every time you eat an ice cream you remember them and send a prayer to the people of Darfur. I dedicate this evening to Darfur."

Then he launched into a long introduction to Stimela, his passionately anthemic song about the Coal Trains which enabled the mine owners to get rich while the miners themselves suffered not only deprivation but harsh treatment and even harsher living conditions, barely able to sustain themselves with the poverty wages they were paid. "This is a sad song," he warned the crowd. Then he gave a litany of African places — Soweto, Uganda and so on — where human beings suffered in the past as they continue to suffer from the outrages going on in Darfur today.But the crowd didn’t get it. Still dancing, they cheered every time Masekela shouted out a name. "What is this?" he finally and angrily asked. "It’s a sad song. It’s not a soccer game!"

That did it.

The dancers stopped in their tracks and listened while Masekela and his seven musicians drove that Coal Train down the track, the pounding of the rhythm imitating the pounding of the iron wheels grinding the miners and their families down, while Masekela uttered shockingly penetrating shrieks vividly evoking the sinister character of the train whistle. Train and pain merged in one astonishing sonic image.Only after that tension had been broken, with the crowd cheering like they wanted to put a hole in the roof of the tent as Masekela had bidden them to do at the beginning of the show, did he give him the cheerful antidote: Grazing in the Grass.Live, Masekela is even more impressive than on his records.

His musical force is powerful and his band is expert at producing a wall of sound and then cutting it dramatically to nothing. His musicians, alto saxophonist Morris Goldberg, percussionist Francis Fuster, drummer Ian Herman, guitarist John Selolwani, bassist Fana Zulu and the incomparable Tony Cedras on keyboards, have played with him a long while, some for decades.

They play like believers, with gospel-like intensity. Masekela’s bright flugel-horn sound, brighter at times than a trumpet, and Goldberg’s rich reedy tone; the unceasingly rock-solid rhythm section, the jazzy riffs of guitarist Selolwani, the orchestral sound of Cedras on keyboards, all contribute to the drive and emotional power of the band.Earlier in the evening, in the intimate space of Argyle Fine Art Sound Gallery host of its own Edgy Music in Artsy Spaces series proved an ideal setting for the See Through Trio. Pete Johnston on double bass, Mark Laver on soprano sax and Tania Gill on piano and melodica, together bring off one of the most difficult ensemble styles in any music —they combine simplicity of line and texture with ensemble improvisation and solos whose transparency makes every note count.

Their melodic architecture is delicate, their solos clear and subtly varied, often over an ostinato figure in the bass and left hand of the keyboard on only one or two chords, allowing for an improvisational style of utter clarity and simplicity. ([email protected])

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