For all it being called ‘In Solitary Confinement’, this is a surprisingly upbeat song which starts with some spritely guitar playing and uplifting penny whistle before Vusi’s beautiful vocals kick in. This juxtaposition of the serious nature of the lyrics and a happy tune is not uncommon in music with The Smiths’ ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’ being one that I always cite (and did so in the review of Henry Ate’s ‘Hey Mister’).
In ‘In Solitary Confinement’ Vusi was singing from personal experience having been incarcerated and put in solitary himself. If my memory serves me correctly from when I was lucky enough to see Vusi perfom live, this song was written on toilet paper while he was in prison. It is a joyous romp of a song with the pennywhistle flitting around Vusi’s tight guitar work while his voice does its magic with the lyrics, caressing the pain of the words with its beauty until the desired effect of those wanting to inflict the pain is beaten into submission.
South Africa must be one of the few places in the world where the protest songs could sound joyful and beautiful but at the same time have biting, critical words and ‘In Solitary Confinement’ is a shining example of this. So lock youself up in your room and let Vusi’s magic set you free.
Where to find it:
When You Come Back – Vusi Mahlasela (1998) Shifty/BMG,CDSHIFT50