The day Hugh Masekela met ‘Mbuyao’

I t was a Sunday, July 9 2007.The pleasant bright afternoon sunshine was perhaps sufficient insignia that the gods of music had nodded at the coming to Malawi of the highly acclaimed king of South African jazz, the late Hugh Masekela.

At the venue, the Blantyre Sports Club, the lawns were lush and invitingly waiting for the magnificent Jazz Master to come emitting his usual steam.
For a long time, Malawians had heard about Masekela’s magnificence in writing and performing songs that lubricated the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

Yes, it was Masekela coming, the Stimela star and maker of Grazing in the Grass, a sensation that ever made it to the top of the charts in the United States!
So, when ‘Bra Hugh’ set foot on stage, heaven had come to Malawi and melody had taken over the role of blood, transporting lyrical air through the sentimental system of musical veins to inject life into people’s jazz thirsty organs.

Masekela skillfully blew his trumpet, his eyes closed yet his world open to the admiration of an audience swept by the thrill of emancipating melodies.
Then, in the middle of everything, a middle-aged man launched himself to the ground close to the platform. Before anyone could make heads or tails of the situation, the man was all over the place in careless somersaults.

Flipping and flipping, the man scattered those who were in his path.
“Ameneyo ndiye Mbuyao! [That’s the ‘Cat Man’ for you!].”
Those familiar with the dude even expected worse.
“Bola asakakwere apopo! [The prayer is he won’t leap onto the stage!].”
Another somersault.Then another.

When the ‘Cat Man’ vaulted to a stop, he stood there like a tree stump, his arms frozen in a catlike stance, as if ready to pounce on a helpless mouse.
He stood there for a moment before he let out a mocking smile and started walking towards the stage. This was when security realised they had let the cat with too much time.

He was now standing exactly by the low-standing stage where Masekela was busy with his occupation. From this distance, just a stretch of his hand (or is it his paw?) and the ‘Cat Man’ would land the Jazz King.
‘The Cat’ and the singer’s eyes met—one pair red from the exhausting tasks on the trumpet and the other so scarlet from the ‘food and drinks’ of the jungle.

‘The Cat,’ perhaps used to standing its ground in times of the adverse encounters in the jungle of life, seemed not any moved at all by the singer’s angry face.

This is when the singer had to take a break from his well-rehearsed lines and call for intervention.
“Police, take away this man. Police, please take away this man,” Masekela spoke with the diplomacy he had.
“Hiiiiyaaa! Odi apa,tivine! Timuonetse mfanayu! [Make way! I have dance moves to show to this guy!],” said the catman.

The ‘Cat Man’ unsuccessfully negotiated his ‘release’ from the grip of the muscled security men.
It was, therefore, so devastating on Tuesday to hear that at 78, the legend Hugh Masekelahad lost his long battle with prostate cancer.

Masekela has slipped into his hue of time. His sinews will now rest from the world’s demanding schedules in venues unlimited.

However, his music will now even more travel the ends of the earth, reminding generations of a strong fight against apartheid, a history that no time or egalitarianism can erase.
Rest in the music, son of the trumpet! n

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