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Jazz : Masekela, Makeba in a Celebratory Mood

March 28, 1994|BILL KOHLHAASE

The joint appearance of Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba on Friday at the Wadsworth Theater was a celebratory affair, and why not? With elections due in South Africa next month, the country's two best-known musicians and longtime anti-apartheid voices--both spent some 30 years in exile before returning in 1990--turned the nearly three-hour concert into a triumphant display of their homeland's spirit and culture.

But the two also used the occasion to note that the struggle is not over. "We need your investments, your skills, your money," Makeba told the audience, after noting that at age 62 she would vote in the land of her birth for the first time.

Both were in fine form, with Masekela's fluegelhorn work especially sharp and revealing. Surprisingly, Masekela's voice played an equal role in his presentation, adding percussive coloring and scat-like declarations, sometimes in sweet harmony with a trio of backing voices.

Makeba's voice remains a fine instrument, capable of warmth and intimacy, strength and anger. Singing in Xhosa, Zulu and, less frequently, English, she developed a lively rhythmic presence filled with depth and dignity. Her least successful efforts came when she strayed from her roots, as on the murky pop ballad "I Still Long for You."

Likewise, Masekela's weakest moment came during his signature tune, "Grazin' in the Grass," which seemed almost tired in its delivery. But he followed with his most moving effort, the moody "Stimela," a tune that evokes images of the trains carrying conscripted workers to the mines of South Africa.

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