VUSI MAHLASELA / “Vusi Mahlasela Mixtape”
I like a lot of the music I hear coming from South Africa; “like” but don’t understand the songs because I don’t speak the languages. Even when I hear some of the artists speak African-accented, British English I sometimes get turned around for a minute and have to listen hard to decipher everything that’s being said.
While I may miss the meaning, there is no mistaking the rhythms and the lyricism—oh, wait, I don’t mean to include Afrikaans in that general embracement. Afrikaans is hard on my ears but then that may be a social predisposition on my part coloring an aesthetic assessment.
All of which is a rather convoluted intro to brother Vusi, a true troubadour: one who travels around singing topical songs. He came of age during the struggles of the late seventies in South Africa.
Vusi Sidney Mahlasela Ka Zwane was born in 1965 in Lady Selbome (near Pretoria), South Africa. He joined the ANC Youth division and became an activist/organizer. He was arrested and detained by the Apartheid era police. His written poems were often used as evidence to arrest him so Vusi began memorizing all of his poetry, which he recited at rallies, meetings and demonstrations.
Vusi was deeply interested in poetry and literature. His songs are often narratives about life in South Africa and not just lyrics expressing his personal feelings. He was featured in the 2002 documentary Amandla: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, which investigated the role that music played in the anti-Apartheid struggle inside South Africa. Vusi was also featured on the soundtrack for the noted, 2005 movie, Tsotsi.
In South Africa he is widely known as “The Voice.” Aesthetically he is one of the most beautiful tenors ever. His voice is agile and expressive, and blessed with a falsetto of incredible power. But beyond the beauty of his voice, Vusi is celebrated because of the content of his music.
He sings about “hope” and “history” but he also tells personal stories as well as puts poetry to music. One of his best known compositions is “Red Song,” whose lyrics are a poem by Keorapetse “Willie” Kgositsile. His long time musical collaborator is Zimbabwe-born guitarist Louis Mhlanga who is featured on most of Vusi’s albums including Live at The Bassline, which is a 1999 recording in duet with Mhlanga.
In many ways, Vusi is an anomaly. He is not a textbook oriented poet, nor is he a popular performance poet. His music is not kwaito or any of the other types of South African pop music.
What is there is a warm heart and a wondrous voice speaking to daily human concerns. He began recording in 1992 with the album When You Come Back. He has eight albums including The Voice, a 2003 “best of” compilation.
I have chosen selections from all of Vusi’s albums and leave it to your ears to make your own determination. As for me I like Live at The Bassline and 2000’s Jungle of Questions (With The Proud Peoples Band).
Vusi is an important cultural caretaker and social critic who eloquently sings to, for and about the people of South Africa.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Vusi Mahlasela Mixtape Playlist
These tracks are from When You Come Back (1992)
02 “In Solitary Conﬁnment”
03 “Melodi ya Mamelodi”
The following three tracks are from Wisdom Of Forgiveness (1994)
05 “Yithi Masotsha”
These next four tracks are from Silang Mabele (1997)
07 “Silang Mabele”
Four tracks from Live At The Bassline (1999) - Vusi Mahlasela & Louis Mhlanga
11 “When You Come Back (Live)”
12 “Fountain (Live)”
13 “Red Song (Live)”
14 “Woza (Live)”
The next three tracks are from Miyela Africa (2000)
15 “Will You Have Time”
16 “Sipho Sami”
17 “A Prayer For Our Time”
Five tracks from Jungle Of Questions - Vusi Mahlasela & Proud People's Band (2000)
19 “Mother Agriqua”
21 “Mma Modiane”
22 “Meeting Of The Waters”
Five tracks from Vusi’s last album Guiding Star (2007)
23 “River Jordan”
24 “Our Sand”
25 “Pata Pata”
26 “Song for Thandi”
A recording from a presentation at a TED Session - August 2007
27 “Thula Mama/Red”
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