This is an archived article.

February 25, 2010

South African singer-songwriter, poet-activist Vusi Mahlasela to perform Feb. 27, in Meany Hall

South African guitarist, singer-songwriter and poet-activist Vusi Mahlasela will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, in Meany Hall. Mahlasela draws from blues, world, soul, and folk music to create a unique musical style that has enchanted and inspired listeners worldwide and that has earned him critical acclaim for his “uplifting” and “timeless” music.


An influential voice during the struggle to overthrow apartheid, Mahlasela is now also an ambassador for Nelson Mandela’s 46664 Foundation, helping to raise global awareness of HIV/AIDS. Friend, musical collaborator and fellow South African Dave Matthews calls Mahlasela “one of the most important influences of my life.”

Tickets are $33 ($30 for subscribers and $20 for students) and may be purchased by phone at 206-543-4880, online at www.uwworldseries.org or in person at the UW Arts Ticket Office. Ticket-holders are invited to come at 7:10 p.m. to learn more about Mahlasela and his music at an informal talk held in the main auditorium before the concert.

Born in 1965 in Lady Selborne, South Africa, Mahlasela became enchanted by music at an early age, and built his first guitar out of tin and fishing line. He gravitated toward poetry and songwriting as a teen, eventually joining youth organizations protesting South Africa’s separatist, white government.

Reading poems at night vigils, funerals and anti-apartheid marches triggered a long streak of police harassment. Local police soon began requiring that Mahlasela keep them informed of his whereabouts at all times, and his poems and songs were routinely confiscated, forcing him to memorize his work. This harassment took place during a time when people like him would “just disappear indefinitely,” he recalls, or, in Mahlasela’s case, be held for periods of time. “Somehow you get some sort of courage. You look at what’s happening to your comrades, and you see that their struggle has to be testified–and you don’t have to be afraid.”

Though he had released a string of albums in South Africa, it wasn’t until the 2003 release of the documentary film Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, that Americans first heard Mahlasela. In a rave Los Angeles Times review, noted critic Robert Hilburn wrote, “Vusi Mahlasela’s voice is so pure and commanding; you wonder whether you should have gotten an entire album by him.”


Later that same year, Americans got the chance to hear an entire album when Mahlasela’s CD The Voice (a collection of the best songs from his catalog) was released for the first time in U.S. via the ATO Records label, co-owned by Dave Matthews.

For more information about Vusi Mahlasela, visit his Web site, www.vusimahlasela.com.