Musician and activist Hugh Masekela brought his incredible energy to UCLA Live this past weekend and everyone who entered Royce Hall felt it.
Theresa Willis-Peters, our program coordinator for UCLA Live’s K-12 program Design For Sharing, encountered this extraordinary man’s purpose and spirit up close, as she readied the Hall to welcome elementary-school students from across Los Angeles.
“As the last few school groups filed into Royce Hall for Hugh Masekela’s DFS Demonstration Performance on Friday morning, I made my way backstage. Once our ushers had all 1,200 middle and high school students settled in their seats, it would be my job, as DFS Coordinator, to welcome our audience and introduce the artists. Our stage manger gave the call: two minutes to curtain. More than a minute went by, but none of the musicians came to the stage. Rather than waiting in the wings by myself, I dashed back to the dressing rooms. I was hoping to corral the band into place so we could finally start, but I stopped short when I reached the green room.
Hugh and the band had gathered in a tight circle, hands clasped, singing. This, I knew, couldn’t be interrupted.
I was immediately grateful to get to hear this simple melody, to be so close to the source of such exuberance. I slipped into the corner, where I could stay out of the way. I would have been glad to stand there all day to just listen and watch, but I didn’t have the chance. Hugh was smiling at me over his shoulder.
He reached his hand out to me, and everyone shifted slightly, making space for one more. I slipped my hand into his, and was pulled into the circle. I had no idea what was being sung, but of course it didn’t matter. They filled the room with their voices, soaring and joyful. I stepped and swayed with the group, singing along as much as I could, a smile spread wide across my face. Too soon, the song ended with a long, resonating note. We lifted our still-clasped hands high in the air and everyone bowed their heads for just a moment before letting go. Hugh looked around at his fellow bandmates, gave me a nod and headed for the stage.
It was an unexpected gift to find myself part of that lovely moment of musical communion, one of those rare experiences that can only be called magical.
But, perhaps the real gift of the day was this: Everyone in Royce Hall that morning got some share of that magic. Hugh’s performance on stage was infused with the same inclusiveness and openness that I had just been welcomed with. Hugh and his band shared their music and their energy and their personal experiences with warmth and generosity. Even from the stage, this legendary performer was able to make the hundreds of students in the audience feel as I had just felt, offering his hand to each of them, bringing them all into his circle.”
Pretty great stuff. We’re lucky to have artists like Hugh Masekela in the world. We’re privileged to bring them to the Los Angeles audience, and to young people in this city.
Want more Hugh? Read about his equally uplifting evening performance in Royce Hall later that night, in this piece from International Review of Music.
And check out Hugh’s joyous new album Jabulani.