When he belted out the ballads, I began to cry. I did not know the meaning of the Xhosa lyrics, but the depth his tone emoted made me understand the yearning that South Africans must have carried as they migrated from townships to cities. The musical was aptly titled Songs of Migration. It featured an ensemble of great South African actors like Gloria and Bosman, yet when the limelight expanded on Hugh Masekela, I understood why he is considered Africa’s Greatest. The music exploded and he began to gyrate and rotate like he had no bones in his body. I could not believe he was 77 years old. With dexterity, he swayed, ducked, and charmed the crowd until the sound of our ovation echoed in the halls of the Market theatre. I waited patiently for him in the theatre’s lobby.
As soon as the lady with the blonde streaks stepped out of his embrace, I lurched forward to hug him. He flinched backwards. “I am allergic to synthetics.” He explained unapologetically, pointing at my extensions. Reading the disappointment on my face, he elaborated. “It is not personal, I am simply allergic to the chemicals and the synthetics.” Unabashed, I persisted “I just saw your show and I love you.” Before he could respond, I rumbled on. “I know you have a crazy schedule, but can I have a sit-down interview with you?” As I rattled details about how hard I had been working to meet him, his lips stretched to form a weary smile. “Ok, lets see what i can do.” 4pm the next day, we had a date.
He strutted on to the set in black Adidas shoes, a leather satchel strapped across his shoulders. I tried to still my trembling fingers as I unfastened the tripods. I was a nervous wreck until he drew next to me and showed me pictures of his granddaughter on his Blackberry. The sight of this legend beaming with indescribable love made me so comfortable I started to call him uncle Hugh. Hugh Masekela (to the rest of you;) is unpretentious about his fame and his mark on music. However, when it comes to Africa, he is passionate about the need for us to look inward to draw inspiration from our culture. He stated this consistently without being preachy or condescending. He even added ‘colourful’ exclamations like ‘bullshit’ to emphasize his point of view – that just tickled me.
19 minutes later, it was over. Uncle Hugh joined his cast for rehearsals. I hauled my equipments over my shoulder and trotted along the cobblestone pavement. Above the animated street chatter, I heard someone call my name. I cocked my head to see Hugh Masekela sitting at the theatre bistro, beckoning me to join him for afternoon tea. “Where are you going with those tripods sticking out of your bag?” He queried. I answered that I was about looking for a bus to Sandton Mall. “My dear this is Johannesburg, you are an easy target for a senseless crime carrying those cameras and tripods.” Before I could voice my complacency, he was on his Blackberry calling someone to escort me to the Bree bus station. By the time the kind escort arrived, Uncle Hugh had changed his mind. He took out 200 Rand from his wallet and asked the gentleman to hail a cab for me. Touched by his kindness and his protectiveness, I leaned over and kissed him on both cheeks. I had been dying to do that. He cupped my face in his hands: “Be careful my daughter and take care. ” We hugged. This time he did not flinch. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ua5OOYcwcI&feature=feedwll&list=WL