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Mahlasela, Vusi (South Africa)  
Vusi Mahlasela

VUSI Mahlasela was born in Lady Selbourne, Pretoria in 1965 and grew up in Mamelodi, a township famed as a cradle of culture which has produced many of Black South Africa’’s greatest musicians and writers.
Vusi can’t remember a time when he wasn’t singing as a child "I’m sure I learned to sing before I could talk" he says. Listening-in his grandmother’s shebeen-to men singing ‘ingomabusuku' or ‘songs of the night' the young Vusi began to teach himself to play his home-made guitar, a remarkable instrument made of tin cans and fishing line.
Formal guitar lessons began when he entered high school, where he set about putting together a vocal group of his own. His teachers marvelled at his amazing vocal range which enabled him to continue singing soprano parts in school productions well into his teens.

By the age of seventeen, Vusi was a seasoned performer. He had soon tired of singing cover versions of popular songs and discovered that he had a flair for composition and begun to write his own music and lyrics. He found himself drawn to themes with social and political significance and he became much in demand at political rallies and cultural events. This drew him into close contact with poetry groups, which led to him joining the ‘Ancestors of Africa' This group of poets, musicians and actors, formed in 1981, stirred up some turbulence among the current police force, who harassed its members.

guitar, vocals, arranger
Genre: mbaqanga, traditional / indigenous, spoken word
“We were picked up and harassed in all types of situations, going to church every Sunday and being forced to sign a piece of paper at the police station first. If I was going out of town for a wedding, it had to be reported to the police first. They kept on harassing me with the things I was doing. But I stuck to it", says Vusi.

It was after joining the Congress of South African Writers in 1988, that Vusi developed a new level of confidence as a poet and a writer. He came into contact with other artists and poets who were to influence him greatly. He struck up a creative friendship with South African poet Lesego Rampolokeng at the same time he fell under the jazz and traditional music spell of artists like Miriam Makeba and Phillip Tabane. He was exposed to the work of Victor Jara, whom Vusi acknowledges as having had perhaps the strongest influence on his music and lyrics. Vusi Mahlasela’s introduction to the international scene came in 1990 when he played at the Zabalaza Festival in London.

‘When You Come Back' Vusi’s - debut album - which he dedicated to all those who had sacrificed thier lives to the solitude and suffering of political exile, was recorded and released by Shifty/BMG in 1992 and produced by Lloyd Ross. It has gone on to win many local and international fans for this humble songbird and is still rightfully considered a South African classic and continues to amaze music lovers the world over.

On the 10th of May 1994 in Pretoria, Vusi was on stage with his fellow musicians for the most important gig of his life, to celebrate the inauguration of South Africa’s new president, Nelson Mandela. During this year, with South Africa undergoing massive transition, Vusi released his second album ‘Wisdom of Forgiveness' (Shifty/BMG), dedicated to the respect of all humanity with music to fight crimes and injustices in this Era of Hope. For this album Vusi teamed up again with Lloyd Ross, working and writing closely with Lesego Rampolokeng and Zimbabwean guitar maestro Louis Mhlanga.
Critically acclaimed, the album saw Vusi receive a finalist nomination for Best Male Vocalist at the FNB SAMA Awards.

With the melody of life flowing through his veins, Vusi, otherwise known as ‘The Voice from Mamelodi' toured extensively after the release of ‘Wisdom of Forgiveness'. Highlights included shows in Europe at the 1996 Dranouter Festival in Belgium and a 1996 USA trip that saw Vusi make his North American debut in Los Angeles at the House of Blues with the legendary backing band The Wailers. He also performed at the 1996 MASA in Ivory Coast and has since toured Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia. Vusi also supported international stars Joan Armatrading, UB40 and Ismael Lo during their South African tours. Appearances at the Falun festival in Sweden, La Villette festival in France, the Rudolstadt festival in Germany and the Sunsplash tour in Austria, the Dranouter Festival in Belgium, the Tribute to Princess Diana Concert in England, allowed him to further spread his musical message. Tours in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Reunion, France and Belgium followed. Locally Vusi starred in the succesfull Samekoms/Kopano show alongside Afrikaans diva Laurika Rauch in 98 and 99, the Johannesburg charity performance alongside Ismael Lo in May 99, still has people buzzing. The recent one-off show with American steel percussion wizzard Andy Narrell jamming along to Vusi’s music in September 99, was surely another highlight.

Vusi’s songs found their way onto some high profile compilation albums, notably the Oscar-nominated ‘Mandela?soundtrack, the 1996 ‘Homegrown' Red Cross fund-raising cd as well as ‘African Troubadours' a Shanachie Records release.

Vusi also received nominations for Best South African Artist and Best Music Video at the 1996 KORA All Africa Music Awards. In 1998 Vusi received the FNB SAMA Award for Best Male Vocalist and Best Album (Silang Mabele).

© S.Gordon 2006
October 1997 brings us his third, and long awaited album ‘Silang Mabele' Tswana for ‘crush the corn' (‘let’s get down to work'. Singing in six different South African languages, Vusi’s message is clear: "The time has arrived for all South Africans to roll up our sleeves, and get on with the job of making this new country work. We celebrated when our leaders and culture returned from exile. When conflict was expected we applied the wisdom of forgiveness. After the celebration and forgiveness, the time has come to produce. Silang Mabele is a call for unity to fight poverty."

Working with producer Lloyd Ross and the cream of the local music crop, Vusi has demonstrated his rare musical ability to reflect the changing society in which we live. Silang Mabele is resultantly the product of South Africa’s musical talent at it’s best. Using a folkish underpinning, the album swirls Mbaqanga, soulful African jazz and Marabi, tribal ululations, sweet brass sounds, deep throat exhortations, delightful guitar work and Vusi’s uplifting voice, all into an unique, pure and undiluted musical masala.

Lyrically Mahlasela uses the talents of poets and writers like Walter Chakela, Lisa Combrink and Lesego Rampolokeng.

August 1999 saw the release of the much anticipated live album Vusi Mahlasela & Louis Mhlanga live at the Bassline, a release that neatly captures the essence and joyful spirit of their gigs at what now is one of Johannesburg’s premier live venues. Stripped down to just the two guitars and voices in exquisite harmony, indelibly bonded by the music, Vusi and Louis weave a spell of pure magic over their appreciative audience.

But let’s leave the last word to Nadine Gordimer: ‘Vusi Mahlasela sings as a bird does: in total response to being alive. He is a natural, blessed with the gift of song. And he has the genuine artist’s highly intelligent application to develop his heaven-sent talent, becoming a guitarist, a poet and composer of ever-growing accomplishment. As music runs in his veins, so does strong awareness of our times and place, and the people, who, like him, give expression to these. He generously brings new life to the work of other poets by setting it to his music, adding the passion, warmth and tenderness of his voice. Silang Mabele is the peak of his achievements - a wonderful range of originality, joyous, humourous, lamenting, celebrating. Music was at heart at the struggle for freedom; Vusi was there. Music is at the heart of reconstruction: Vusi’s music is here to stir and delight us. He’s a national treasure'
  Recordings : Mahlasela, Vusi
Jungle Of Questions

Jungle Of Questions
Miyela Afrika

Miyela Afrika
Live At The Bassline

Live At the Bassline with Louis Mhlanga

click here for more about these and other recordings by : Mahlasela, Vusi

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