Vusi Mahlasela, dubbed the 'Bob Dylan of South Africa' by long-time admirer, friend and fellow musician Dave Matthews, spent his youth in Mamelodi, an artistically creative township and hotbed of political activism. A prolific poet and songwriter since his early teens, Mahalsela is one of South Africa’s most acclaimed musicians.

Did you know?

Vusi Mahlasela is an ambassador for Nelson Mandela’s 46664 Foundation.

Vusi Mahlasela Ka Zwane, born in 1965 in Lady Selborne, a township near Pretoria, was always musically inclined, and was politically and socially conscious from a young age.

Mahlasela spent his youth in Mamelodi where he would recite poetry at gatherings and funerals, leaving himself open to persecution and the confiscation of his lyrics by the police. This forced Mahlasela to know and recite his poetry and songs by heart. In 1988 he joined the Congress of South African Writers where he helped to break the silence around apartheid with his writing skills.

Mahlasela’s humble musical beginnings are reflected in a tin and fishing line guitar – an instrument that he made himself. He counts South African jazz icons Phillip Tabane and Miriam Makeba among his greatest influences.

Mahlasela’s first international tour was in 1990, where he played at a festival in London; since then he has toured internationally every year. Mahlasela’s sound is influenced by world music, folk, soul and blues – a combination that strikes a chord with audiences the world over. Sweden was the first country to really adopt Vusi’s music and his message, and the rest of Europe – including the United Kingdom – soon followed.

Mahlasela conquered the United States with the release of the award-winning documentary film 'Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony' in 2002. The release of his first album in the USA, ‘The Voice’, along with his involvement in the 2006 Oscar-winning film 'Tsotsi' has seen critical acclaim abroad for his music grow even stronger.

His other great passion is his music development foundation, based at the State Theatre in Pretoria. Through his love of music, he connects South Africa's apartheid-scarred past with the promise of a better future through its young musicians.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

The Mahogany Room
78 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town
Tel: +27 (0)76 679 2697

10 Henry Nxumalo Street, Johannesburg
Tel: +27 (0)11 838 9142

Cape Town Jazz International Festival
Tel: +27 (0)21 671 0506

Tours to do

There are two premier Jazz events on the South African calendar: the annual Joy of Jazz festival in Johannesburg and the annual Cape Town Jazz festival.

What will it cost

Tickets to live music events cost between R100 and R300

What's happening

Venues like Bassline in Johannesburg and The Mahogany Room in Cape Town host live music events.

Best buys

Be sure to buy some South African Jazz as a memento of your trip.

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