Vusi Mahlasela

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About Vusi Mahlasela

In his home country of South Africa, singer/songwriter Vusi Mahlasela is fondly known as "The Voice." His fellow countrywoman, the writer Nadine Gordimer, once said about him: "Vusi Mahlasela sings as a bird does: in total response to being alive." Apart from his remarkable songwriting talent, Mahlasela is in fact blessed with one of the most remarkable voices in contemporary popular music. Vusi Mahlasela grew up listening to people singing in his grandmother's shebeen (an informal pub in South African townships) and taught himself while playing the guitar. As a teenager, he started writing his own songs with lyrics of social significance. In 1981, he joined the poetry group Ancestors of Africa, who were on the watch list of the Apartheid regime. His joining of the Congress of South African Writers in 1988 marks a new quality in his artistical maturing process. Besides starting a collaboration with South African dub poet Lesego Rampolokeng, he explored South African jazz and traditional music as well as the work of Chilean songwriter Victor Jara, who -- in his own opinion -- was his strongest influence. His first international performance in London (1990) made him more popular overseas than back home. Consequently, his debut album, When You Come Back (1992), a tribute to the political exiles of South Africa, catapulted him to instant fame in Europe and North America. Nowadays, it is considered a South African classic. Wisdom of Forgiveness, the 1994 successor, was an equally strong effort. The album title nicely summarized the political approach taken by the new democratic South African government: not revenge, but forgiveness was the strategy of the new era. Extensive touring was the reason that Mahlasela's next album, Silang Mabele, was only released at the end of 1997. The message of this album was clear: the time of singing praise songs is over, now let's make this new country work. The live set, Vusi Mahlasela & Louis Mhlanga Live at the Bassline (1999) captured a sizzling performance with one of his longterm collaborators and friends, guitarist Louis Mhlanga, stripped down to two guitars. In 2002, Vusi Mahlasela also appeared in Lee Hirsch's acclaimed documentary Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony which examined the role of music in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The compilation The Voice (2003) which Mahlasela himself handpicked for listeners in North America, marked his official record debut in the U.S.. To celebrate the twenty year anniversary of When You Come Back, the album that brought him onto a world stage in 1992, Vusi assembled his band and threw a concert at the Lyric Theatre in Johannesburg in 2012, performing several of his signature songs in front of an enthusiastic and very involved audience, and the whole affair was recorded and released as a live set, Sing to the People, early in 2013. ~ Frank Eisenhuth

Lady Selbourne, Pretoria, South Africa
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