With a crowd diverse in age and race, a lively audience came to the Swyer Theater at The Egg in Albany for a night of South African music that was engaging and inspired dancing in the crowd all throughout the evening. Celebrating the 100th birthday of global peacemaker Nelson Mandela and nearly 25 years of freedom from apartheid, Vusi Mahlasela paid tribute to South African music legends Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakela, Dorothy Masuka and Brenda Fassie with ‘Township!’
South African music was hard to come by for the mid-late 20th century, due to the cultural boycott on the country due to apartheid, and at home, black South African music was banned from the radio, so American records were played at pubs. Known as “The Voice,” Mahlasela hails from Mamelodi Township, outside Pretoria and experienced this music embargo first hand, yet became an international legend starting in the late 1980s. Accompanied by Mongeze Ntaka on guitar, Jimmy Mgwandi on bass and Ian Herman on drums, Mahlasela took the audience on a tour of South Africa’s sights, sounds and languages through a variety of songs from the influential artists that came before him.
The night opened with the acoustic “Ubuhle” in the Hosa/Zulu dialect of South African – where there are 11 official languages – and was followed by a song about the beauty of the land, “Silang Magele” and “Jabula,” a song sung by a dove during harvest season. “Draaikies” by Dr. Phillip Tabane, was sung in a slang language of South Africa, combining elements of regional and European dialects. An untitled song referenced the pain of separation and was written on toilet paper while in jail. Here, Mahlasela spoke of Africa deserving better because Africa has been giving all along – through slavery, raw materials, and colonization, and still today through the neo-colonization seen by China.
“Our Sand” was dedicated to the San people, who were the first people to walk the earth, also known as Bushmen. The upbeat and joyful Township songs closed the performance, starting with “Jesu” and “Uncolo.” “Unomeva” was inspired by the speakeasies of South Africa and the characters and musicians that were found there. Finally, Mahlasela mentioned the concept of Ubuntu, the quality of human virtues, including humanity, compassion, tolerance, love, among others. “Say Africa” was sung with the audience enthusiastically serving as the chorus. An encore of “Woza” gave a swingtown vibe to the Township we were welcomed into this evening.
Setlist: Ubuhle, Silang Magele, Miyela Africa, Jabula, Amdokwe, Draaikies, When You Come Back, Untitled, Our Sand, Jesu, Uncolo, Unomeva, Say Africa