Mahalasela Brings South African Spirit to Andover

Renowned social activist and musician Vusi Mahlasela, who played for Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994 as well as his 90th birthday, sang in the Timken Room last Wednesday. A poignant message accompanied the excellent music in his performance. “It’s not only his music, but also his message and actions… that mean so much to people across the globe,” said Enek Peterson ’12. Mahlasela, who taught himself to sing and play the guitar, sang in four different languages that evening: English, Zulu, Sotho and Tswan. As an activist, he sings of the possibility of connecting the “Apartheid-scarred South Africa with its promise for a better future.” During the program, Mahlasela also argued for the value of forgiveness. “There is a wisdom in forgiveness,” he said, adding that, by forgiving, we become more “free” and when we do not forgive, we become “a prisoner of [ourselves].” Mahlasela’s wish for a united Africa was clear when he sang a song about two birds that lived on dry land. One bird could not see, and the other could not fly. To get off the dry land and search for prey, the birds co-operated in order to fly off the island and surmounted each of their obstacles by relying on each other. Mahlasela said, “We need to honor each other … as people,” just as the two birds had done. This song showed fast rolling chords on the guitar and country music-like running lyrics. Mahlasela sang with two different voices, each reflecting the voice of one bird. These voices culminated into a harmonious collaboration of sounds. Alex Du ’10 said, “Mahlasela is an excellent musician and speaker…I’m not surprised he’s a prominent figure in South Africa.” Mahalasela dedicated on of his pieces to the movements against apartheid, the disappearance of children in South Africa and his grandmother. Mahlasela tapped his feet and sang irregular rhythms. At the end, an exciting solo melody on the violin joined in with the exhilarating accompaniment of the guitar while the audience sang with Mahlasela, “My song of love, my song of life.” The music ended with the audience singing a heart-warming a capella. Rowland Robinson ’12 said, “[Mahlasela sang] from the heart and from experience, [which] made it moving.” Mahlasela is also dedicated to social activism and partnerships with non-profit foundations including his own Vusi Mahlasela Music Development Foundation, which is “committed to the promotion of and preservation of African Music.” The performance began with Mahlasela’s “The Beauty of Land,” which gave the audience a flavor of South African music. “The Beauty of Land” featured an initial tranquil melody supported by a guitar accompaniment. This convergence of vocal and instrumental music grew more and more agitated until it reached a climax, from where it diminished down to the beginning melody again. A guitar solo ended the serene song. Mandisa Mjamba ’10, who invited Mahlasela said, “His performance took me back home. Just hearing the sound of his guitar and the tapping of his feet as he played was like being back in South Africa. He has an incredible aura on stage when he performs and his music literally sounds like recorded quality. He sang his heart out, which was more than what I could have asked for. I am really honored and proud that I was able to bring him to Andover.” Another piece he sang was on nature and the pain of separation. This piece featured melancholy chords on the guitar, which was followed by Mahlasela’s detached singing. Interestingly, Mahlasela said that this piece was initially written on toilet paper. The chords later became a beautiful, running accompaniment, on top of which Mahlasela sang, “When we meet again, let us define nature and become inseparable.” A definite favorite of the night was a song that Mahlasela dedicated to Africa. This folk-like, happy music displayed fast-moving melody with big chords, which seemed to depict the African wilderness. As Mahlasela sang, “Sing loud, Africa” and “Africa, sing,” the audience joined in with rhythmic clapping and the occasional sing-a-long, filling the cozy Timken Room. Mjamba said, “The spotlight is currently on South Africa due to many reasons, such as the 2010 FIFA World Cup Games which will be held in South Africa. There is so much important history and culture that I wanted to share with the PA community and Mr. Mahlasela embodies both those aspects. I listened to his music and watched videos of his live performances and knew that he would be a great addition to the speakers/performers Andover has already brought to the school.” “It was really fun to sing along,” said Peterson, “because everyone was so into the song … we all loved it.”