Vusi Mahlasela is one of South Africa’s most respected and gifted musicians, poets and activists. Over the course of a 40-year career he has chronicled his personal experiences and those of his compatriots, traversing the abuses of the apartheid era and the subsequent struggle to tackle inequality after policies of racial discrimination ended in the early 1990s.

The massacre of at least 176 black South Africans in the 1976 Soweto Uprising sparked Mahlasela’s political awakening, prompting him to write songs of justice, revolution and freedom. He paid a heavy personal price for this commitment to equality, with the apartheid-era police placing him in solitary confinement on several occasions. He released his first album 'When You Come Back' in 1992, after the fall of the apartheid regime.

Mahlasela has since released six other studio albums but he thrives most in a live setting, where his reputation as ‘The Voice’ finds its fullest expression. His performance was one of the highlights at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994, as well as Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations. Mahlasela’s music has transcended country, inspiring collaborations with musicians including Paul Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and the Dave Matthews Band.

He is now embarking on a tour called 'Township', inspired by his his early musical experiences in his grandmother’s bar in the Mamelodi township just outside Pretoria, where he still lives. It’s a love letter to the mbaqanga, kwela and marabi sounds of the townships.

Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer was one of the first supporters of Mahlasela’s raw talent and paid for his first few guitar lessons. She said “Vusi Mahlasela sings as a bird does - in total response to being alive”. Join The Stream to hear him in full flight.


On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Vusi Mahlasela, @vusimahlasela
Musician and activist

Read more:
Visiting African musician talks garbage guitars and playing Mandela's inauguration - Juneau Empire
Vusi Mahlasela bemoans industry flaws - Sowetan Live

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.