1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “Vusi Mahlasela”

In Solitary Confinement – Vusi Mahlasela

When You Come Back – Vusi Mahlasela

When You Come Back – Vusi Mahlasela

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

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Sleep Tight Margaret – Vusi Mahlasela

Silang Mabele - Visu Mahlasela

Silang Mabele – Visu Mahlasela

Vusi Mahlasela has a beautiful voice. Well, that’s a bit like saying water is wet because, just as anyone who has felt water would tell you that it is wet, anyone who has heard Vusi would tell you he has a beautiful voice. So what happens when a beautiful voice collides with a beautiful song? To start with the word ‘collides’ takes on a velvet smooth kind of merger or combining rather than its usual harsh clashing together of objects. And with ‘Sleep Tight Margaret’ we have this coming together of the voice and the song.

‘Sleep Well Margaret’ is a lullaby that sits like a comfort blanket on your soundsystem with gently plucked guitars, hushed drumming and a muted bass which slide by you in a dreamy state, Vusi’s tender vocals caressing your ears, taking you on a aural trip into dreamland.

But, as with a lot of Vusi’s material, there is more to the song than beautiful voice meeting beautiful song. The lyrics reveal a pain in the Margaret that Vusi is singing to as he sings, ‘Carry you to a new day/New day, new life/Releasing the misfortunes/That carried us through yesterday’. There is a deep care for this ‘Magaret’ and Vusi is trying to help her through this pain, singing her to sleep, and bringing her peace so that she can face the ‘new day’ with optimism. I vaguely recall hearing somewhere that the Margaret in question was Margaret Singana, but I can’t say this with certainty.

A song is often the best envelope in which to deliver a message of hope and no more so in this bittersweet, soul-filled offering from Vusi.

Where to find it:
Silang Mabele – Vusi Mahlasela (1997)

A Proud People – Vusi Mahlasela

Miyela Afrika - Vusi Mahlsela

Miyela Afrika – Vusi Mahlsela

Vusi Mahlasela is known as The Voice, so it is a bit strange to hear an instrumental piece from him, but this is what we find in ‘A Proud People’ and it is a reminder that he is more than voice. Perhaps it is because his voice is so beautiful that we sometimes forget that there are instruments playing on his songs.

Like many black South Africans, Vusi started out playing on a guitar made from fishing line and an old oil can, but as he grew up, his voice took centre stage and his playing faded into the background. On ‘A Proud People’ we get a chance to focus on this other side of The Voice and we find that he has another ‘voice’ which is just as gentle and beautiful. This jazzy, laid back guitar piece is as good for the soul as listening to Vusi singing a capella. Okay maybe not quite as goosebump inducing, but certainly as relaxing.

Frontmen always take the limelight in any band, sometimes to the point of totally obscuring the engine room of sound makers behind them. Here we get a good opportunity to see the musician in Vusi step up and take front stage for a moment, while the voice takes a little break.

Where to find it:
Miyela Afrika – Vusi Mahlasela (2000), Colossal, CDCLL7040

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