Vusi Mahlasela has long been recognized as one of South Africa’s most important musicians, his poems and songs an important part of the anti-apartheid movement at a time when he was regularly harassed by the police.
After apartheid ended, he started gaining an audience outside of South Africa. In the U.S. he became friends with many musicians who championed him, like Dave Matthews, who had him guest on the album Everyday, and Warren Haynes, who brought him onstage at the second Bonnaroo.
With his new release Guiding Star (his second on Matthews’ ATO label) he will gain attention for much more than just his voice, with it’s combination of English and Zulu lyrics that focus on the themes that always seem to run through Mahlasela’s albums, namely the struggle for freedom and the search for inner peace.
The album features many of Mahlasela’s longtime supporters including Matthews, Derek Trucks, Xavier Rudd, Jem, and fellow South Africans Lady Blacksmith Mambazo. And while the guests bring their own unique take to each song, the star of the album is Mahlasela, his voice and creative guitar dominating every song with inventive phrasing and soulful timbre.
Guiding Star is what many albums strive to be: a musically wondrous creation that at the same time stirs up thoughts of spirituality and freedom that leaves you feeling like a better person.
Guiding Star is out now on ATO Records.