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Vusi Mahlasela was born in Lady Selbourne, Pretoria in 1965 and grew up in Mamelodi, a township famed as a cradle of culture which has produced many of Black South Africa’’s greatest musicians and writers.

Vusi can’t remember a time when he wasn’t singing as a child "I’m sure I learned to sing before I could talk" he says. Listening-in his grandmother’s shebeen-to men singing ‘ingomabusuku' or ‘songs of the night' the young Vusi began to teach himself to play his home-made guitar, a remarkable instrument made of tin cans and fishing line.

Formal guitar lessons began when he entered high school, where he set about putting together a vocal group of his own. His teachers marvelled at his amazing vocal range which enabled him to continue singing soprano parts in school productions well into his teens.

By the age of seventeen, Vusi was a seasoned performer. He had soon tired of singing cover versions of popular songs and discovered that he had a flair for composition and begun to write his own music and lyrics. He found himself drawn to themes with social and political significance and he became much in demand at political rallies and cultural events. This drew him into close contact with poetry groups, which led to him joining the ‘Ancestors of Africa' This group of poets, musicians and actors, formed in 1981, stirred up some turbulence among the current police force, who harassed its members.

“We were picked up and harassed in all types of situations, going to church every Sunday and being forced to sign a piece of paper at the police station first. If I was going out of town for a wedding, it had to be reported to the police first. They kept on harassing me with the things I was doing. But I stuck to it", says Vusi.

It was after joining the Congress of South African Writers in 1988, that Vusi developed a new level of confidence as a poet and a writer. He came into contact with other artists and poets who were to influence him greatly. He struck up a creative friendship with South African poet Lesego Rampolokeng at the same time he fell under the jazz and traditional music spell of artists like Miriam Makeba and Phillip Tabane. He was exposed to the work of Victor Jara, whom Vusi acknowledges as having had perhaps the strongest influence on his music and lyrics. Vusi Mahlasela’s introduction to the international scene came in 1990 when he played at the Zabalaza Festival in London.

‘When You Come Back' Vusi’s - debut album - which he dedicated to all those who had sacrificed thier lives to the solitude and suffering of political exile, was recorded and released by Shifty/BMG in 1992 and produced by Lloyd Ross. It has gone on to win many local and international fans for this humble songbird and is still rightfully considered a South African classic and continues to amaze music lovers the world over.

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On the 10th of May 1994 in Pretoria, Vusi was on stage with his fellow musicians for the most important gig of his life, to celebrate the inauguration of South Africa’s new president, Nelson Mandela. During this year, with South Africa undergoing massive transition, Vusi released his second album ‘Wisdom of Forgiveness' (Shifty/BMG), dedicated to the respect of all humanity with music to fight crimes and injustices in this Era of Hope. For this album Vusi teamed up again with Lloyd Ross, working and writing closely with Lesego Rampolokeng and Zimbabwean guitar maestro Louis Mhlanga.

Critically acclaimed, the album saw Vusi receive a finalist nomination for Best Male Vocalist at the FNB SAMA Awards.

After world-wide touring and international acclaim, Americans first caught a glimpse of Vusi in the lauded documentary film Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, and the accompanying soundtrack. After the release of the film, long-time admirer and fellow South African, Dave Matthews, signed Vusi to his own ATO Records label and released The Voice (2003)¸ a collection of the best songs from Vusi’s catalog. In 2007, ATO released his latest album, Guiding Star, his first full-length release in the States. ATO Records will release the highly anticipated follow-up record to Guiding Star on January 18, 2011. The new album, Say Africa, produced by Taj Mahal and recorded at Dave Matthews’ studio in Charlottesville, VA, captures Vusi’s hope for the future of Africa: ‘Let all those who share in Mandela’s greatest wish—to one day see an Africa that is at peace with herself—SAY AFRICA.’

After recording the album in the States this spring, Vusi returned to his home in South Africa and was honored to help ring in the World Cup at FIFA’s Kick Off Concert at Orlando Stadium. The concert was broadcast internationally to an estimated one billion viewers. Following his performance, Vusi proudly introduced fellow South African, Archbishop Desmond Tutu on stage. Vusi’s anthemic song ‘When You Come Back’ was ITV’s official theme song for the World Cup in the UK. Other recent highlights include performing at Mandela Day to honor Mandela’s birthday, touring with Bela Fleck behind the release of his Grammy-winning album ‘Throw Down Your Heart,’ which features a live track from Vusi and Bela, two appearances at the TED conference and performing with Paul Simon.

In the midst of a busy international touring schedule, Vusi remains dedicated to his social activism and partnerships with non-profits, including his own Vusi Mahlasela Music Development Foundation, committed to the promotion of and preservation of African music. Other organizations that Vusi actively supports are OXFAM, The Acumen Fund, The African Leadership Academy and the ONE campaign.

Over a musically and socially consequential career, South African singer-songwriter and poet-activist Vusi Mahlasela has successfully followed his muse and continued to give back to his country. As he puts it, he knows that ‘musicians have to be like watchdogs, just by seeing and speaking out, directly to the youth as well, because we need some kind of Cultural Revolution to remove ignorance.”

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When You Come Back

Nelson Mandela's 90th Birthday Performance

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