Touring with Extraordinary folk – Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis

2013. This highlight has got to be  highlight of the year so far – a 6 date tour with Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis. Zee Hugh Larry 2David Jones of the London Jazz Festival production company Serious, invited me to be support Masekela and Mr Wilis as part of a Women Make Music PRS fund. After I’d accepted, I realised that for the last 3 years I had been working hard as project deviser, coordinator and facilitator, predominantly for youth projects, though I did a little directing and mentoring for Write-Meet-Read Collective,   who were producing their first anthology of  Women writings- “Ink on my Lips” –  in Brighton. I’d only had the odd poetry performance invite throughout the year. I got a little nervous…. But I decided to rise to the challenge, dust off my kora (she hadn’t been played in about 5 years – shame), write some new work, revisit some poems that hadn’t seen the light of day and curate a set based on the theme of “The Melody of the Poetry of Us.”

Zee Speedy Hugh Larry

I had worked with guitarist, Jon Speedy,  for 2 years as a spoken-word  poetry and music duo from 2007 and it was an off-shoot collaboration of “Converations”, my ambitious but brilliantly fun and gratefully successful 2009 & 2010 multi-media projects fusing music, spoken-word poetry and visuals based on a strong theme. This time I chose a theme that spoke to  the things we need and strive to do to stay human in a technocratic, objectifying, globalized epoch that tends to de-humanise and homogenize us. This performance set was about reaffirming ‘regular folk’ – WE the people; WE the women; WE the Spirit that turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I’m yet to finish editing the rest of the live recordings, but here is a taster – “Perfect” – a song about self-acceptance and reassurance. By request, Serious included it in their E-Christms card, “12 Songs Of Serious”,  which they send out to their network every year. I’m properly chuffed to be on the same page as Robert Glasper, Naturally 7, Andy Sheppard and to discover Chloe Charles (lovely singer songwriter).

What was equally satisfying and rewarding about this tour  was how warm, welcoming and ‘human’ Hugh and Larry are. Like two caring Uncles, they checked in on  Jon and I, gave advice, talked about their own nerves about performing (even after all these years) and most heart-warmingly Hugh told awesome story upon wow-Miles-Davies story upon wow-Miriam-Makeba story and so much more on and off stage, and I am a complete sucker for a good story that makes the impossible within reach. *Gawps childlike*

Performing my own material (poetry at that) as a solo artist, accompanied by long time musician buddy, Jon, is one of those moments  I could never have predicted happening just a few years ago. As prepped as I was, the inner dialogue whilst in the middle of…. Perfect actually, was insane, but it went something like  “OMG!! I’M IN THE ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL!!  Right, now to work. Tell that story like you know how…” All eyes (2500 pairs) are on you. It’s a palpable sensation… So yet another amazing turning point in my attitude toward my job – how vital the storyteller’s role is, because when you have so many peoples ears, you don’t want to be chatting fraff and nonsense. I am greatly honoured to have listened to, learned from and shared a stage with  two Master Storytellers who use music to do the talking and decades of experience in making their message land with lasting resonance. Zee Hugh Larry 1

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