HUGH MASEKELA "Live at the Market Theatre" Times Square ROBBI K & FRIENDS "Music Makes Me Happy" 40/Shorty Re-Kids

Hugh Masekela,
Hugh Masekela, "artist extraordinaire." (Times Square/4q Records)
Friday, August 31, 2007

HUGH MASEKELA"Live at the Market Theatre"Times SquareROBBI K & FRIENDS"Music Makes Me Happy"40/Shorty Re-Kids

IN THE LINER NOTES to his new live CD, Hugh Masekela is described as "a great statesman, an artist extraordinaire, a cultural activist, a living legend and a treasure not only for South Africa but the African continent." All true, of course, but it's impossible to listen to "Live at the Market Theatre" without appreciating Masekela's enduring power and presence on the world stage. Oh, and another thing: He remains one heck of an entertainer.

Marking the renowned Johannesburg venue's 30th anniversary, this double-CD set reveals the ease with which Masekela gathers an audience in the palm of his hand before turning in a thoroughly engaging performance -- soulful, playful, romantic, joyous and inspirational by turns. Though his road-worn voice shows its age, Masekela is still capable of stirring painful memories and yearning emotions, as illustrated by his performances of "Stimela," "Thuma Mina" and "District Six." And, of course, anyone wishing to hear him galvanize an audience with words of freedom and affirmation need look no further than "Mandela."

Many of the album's treats, though, are purely musical, thanks to colorful arrangements featuring Masekela playing flugelhorn with an impressive array of South African musicians. He sprays a shower of eighth notes over an undulating funk groove on "The Boy's Doin' It," soulfully accents the languid groove on "Thuma Mina" and vibrantly refreshes the classic "Grazing in the Grass." Though there's no substitute for seeing Masekela in concert, this 15-track collection comes awfully close.

Children's recording artist Robbi K spreads plenty of cheer on "Music Makes Me Happy," offering a sunny and rhythmically contagious blend of pop, folk, funk, jazz, blues, doo-wop, Afro-beat and calypso sounds. A terrific singer with personality to spare, she gets a big assist from several notable guests, including bassist (and husband) Bakithi Kumalo of "Graceland" fame, bluesman Guy Davis, Sha Na Na's Jon Bauman, trumpeter Jimmy Owens and fiddler Eileen Ivers. The target audience may be kids ages 7 to 12, but make no mistake: It's hard to imagine anyone resisting Robbi K's charm, dedication and all-embracing repertoire for very long.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Saturday at the Planet Arlington World Music Festival at the Netherlands Carillon.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company