“Vusi Mahlasela is more than just a popular musician in South Africa. His simple yet powerful storytelling has helped connect and carry a nation recovering from an apartheid past… He recognizes the power that his talent has in bringing hope to others in South Africa.” – NPR
Vusi Mahlasela, the legendary activist and singer-songwriter known as “The Voice” in his native South Africa, will release a new live album of traditional township songs, Shebeen Queen, on August 14. The “shebeen queen” of the title is Mahlasela’s late grandmother Ida, who raised him in the township of Mamelodi (meaning “mother of melody”), where he still lives today.
Following her husband’s murder in 1961, Ida opened a shebeen (speakeasy) and began selling homebrewed beer to make her living. Her space became known for its lively musical gatherings at night, where the townspeople would use buckets, tins, and plastic drums as instruments with everyone singing together in full voices.
As a boy, Mahlasela saw a man playing a guitar at one of these gatherings and was inspired to build his first guitar from fishing line and a cooking oil can.
“In 1976, when I witnessed the Soweto Uprising my political education began,” said Mahlasela, “ and I realized how important music was. I began writing songs of justice, of freedom, of revolution, of love, of peace, and life. For these songs, I was arrested and thrown into solitary confinement. My grandmother was always there for me, fought for me, and stood up for what was right. She was and still is my greatest hero.