South Africa met West Africa Saturday night at Constitution Hall when trumpeter Hugh Masekela and singer Youssou N'Dour shared the same bill and many of the same emotions.
Masekela opened the show with a comparatively small but wonderfully invigorating ensemble of musicians who blended South African township rhythms, chants and melodies with not a little a bit of old-fashioned American soul. By far the most compelling song performed all night involved the plight of South African mine workers, a vocal tour de force for Masekela and a performance even more moving than his still-potent Nelson Mandela anthem, "Bring Him Back Home." On a lighter note, the sextet also joyously reprised and expanded upon an early Masekela hit, "Grazing in the Grass."
Likewise, Senegal's N'Dour devoted part of his show to anti-apartheid themes, occasionally speaking and singing in English rather than in his native dialect, Wolof. Mostly, though, the concert had a distinctly festive air about it, partly because N'Dour is such a spirited crooner in his own right and partly because he was often flanked by remarkably limber dancers. Nor did it hurt matters when his 10-piece band turned old and new songs into either vibrantly percussive or unmistakably sensuous jams.