The haunting sound of Vusi Mahlasela to enthral audiences as he releases new album and embarks on tour

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

A few years ago, a big man with a guitar in hand went on stage in the Monument at Makhanda. While playing his guitar, he sung his lungs out. His voice was soft, almost wailing as if it is a haunted voice calling for African ancestors to descend from wherever they were and heal a troubled African continent. The pack Monument went silent, while the eyes of everyone was glued on stage where the magic was. It was as if Vusi Mahlasela is the one that everyone had been waiting for during that edition of the National Arts Festival as his concert was sold out two days in a row. Moving between poetry and singing, his performance touched the souls of many, induced an emotional response from many and triggered the intellect of many among the audience.

I was reminded of that experience several years ago at the National Arts Festival two weeks ago at the National School of the Arts’ Folk Festival in Braamfontein as Mahlasela took to stage and seemed to repeat the same heart-felt performance he did at the National Arts Festival. The audience also responded in similar fashion, paying attention to every word that came out of his mouth and every move of his fingers on his guitar.

He is simply one of the best that this country has when it comes to both stage craft and penning music that touches audiences in a special way. The other thing is, his music connects with audiences across race and age division, making him a unique musician, especially in a country that sometimes struggles to bring people together.

During the recent performance at the National School of the Arts, I witnessed the power of his music to move people, both black and white, young and old. It was amazing to watch how people responded to his music emotionally, physically and intellectually. Some saw him as the poet that had been waiting for – for a long time. To others he was simply a gifted guitarist, and yet others saw him as some sort of prophet who was called to deliver a message of healing from a Superhuman. In other words you got to choose how to define to suit you, this artist on stage, and it was Okay.

This week I was alerted to the fact that he has released new material, and he will be performing some of the songs from his new album in shows that are coming up soon in which he is featured. That indeed should make many of his fans happy, and new ones expectant.

The point is the iconic singer/guitarist Mahlasela’s unveiling of his new album ‘aptly titled Umoya, should indeed get his fans excited as this is dubbed by his recording company Gallo as a “A spiritual dialogue on unity, from Africa and to the world.

Legendary guitarist and singer-songwriter released the album shortly before the long Heritage Month weekend, 22 September 2023. This is Mahlasela’s first album since 2009.
Recorded at Flame Studios and helmed by two-time Grammy-nominated producer Joe Arthur, the 10-track album is the ideal companion soundtrack to South Africa’s Heritage Month. Addressing some crucial personal and social issues, the body of work cocoons deeply introspective and spiritual explorations within its rootsy sound beds.

A signature strum-driven iteration of African Jazz and folk music sees Mahlasela in poetic form, with the artist affectionately referred to as ‘The Voice’ acting as a conduit for both the essence of his musical art form and the continent at large. In partnership with the Vusi Mahlasela Music Foundation and Native Intelligence De Coloniality Project Centre, and with collaborators Habib Koite, Steve Dyer and Maduvha who features on the opening track, Mahlasela seeks to utilise this project to dismantle colonial frameworks by promoting indigenous knowledge and fostering dialogue.

The multi award-winning artist who has performed with the late Hugh Masekela and Mahotella Queens continues using his socially-inclined music to convey messages both timeless and borderless, crafting balms as much for individual souls as communities. “I know every sickness needs healing,” Mahlasela shares. “Everyone who cries needs comforting. Every troubled soul needs redemption, as captives need freedom.

As every answer starts with a question, every problem needs a solution. Justice must be balanced on every scale – moral leadership, integrity, and fairness matter.” The instructive single “Africa The Sun Has Risen” embodies this ethos, imploring the continent’s inhabitants to equally embrace African-ness and Humankind-ness. Between its earthy strums, the empowering song aims to uplift African voices while actively promoting broader social cohesion – as does Umoya‘s closing track “Universal Prayer”.
In keeping with the album’s theme of bringing people together, Mahlasela will be taking this brand new music that incorporates in Swahili, English, Venda and Pedi to audiences across South Africa. Confirmed live performances will take place at World of Music, Arts & Dance (WOMAD) at the Market Theatre on October 1st, the Vusi Mahlasela Tribute Concert at Moretele Park on October 7th and the Tembisa Jazz Festival on October 28th.

“You who are chosen to deliver the healing message through music,” he advises. “Teach an understanding of the power of the soul, that aligns us to destiny and begin to heal collective illnesses and balance the harmony of new beginnings.”

.Mahlasela will be taking this brand new music that incorporates in Swahili, English, Venda and Pedi to audiences across South Africa, booked to perform at World of Music, Arts & Dance (WOMAD) at the Market Theatre on October 1, 2023, the Vusi Mahlasela Tribute Concert at Moretele Park on October 7, and the Tembisa Jazz Festival on October 28.

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