Vusi Mahlasela Biography: Renowned South African Songwriter

Vusi Mahlasela

Vusi Mahlasela is a renowned South African singer-songwriter known for his soulful voice, poignant lyrics, and commitment to social justice. Here’s a brief overview of his career and contributions:

Vusi Mahlasela

Born 1965 (age 58–59)
Pretoria, South Africa
Origin South Africa
Genres African folk, jam band
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter, musician
Instrument(s) Vocals, guitar
Labels ATO, Wrasse, BMG, RCA, Label Bleu

Early Life 

Vusi Mahlasela was born in 1965 in Pretoria, South Africa, during the height of apartheid. Growing up in a tumultuous political climate, he found solace and inspiration in music, which became a powerful tool for expressing resistance and hope.

Mahlasela’s music carries powerful themes of freedom, forgiveness, and reconciliation, making him an inspirational figure during the anti-apartheid movement. His soulful melodies and poignant lyrics resonate with audiences, both in South Africa and around the world.

Throughout his career, Mahlasela has released seven studio albums in South Africa under Sony Music, showcasing his musical talent and commitment to social change. In 2003, he signed with Dave Matthews’ ATO Records, further expanding his international reach.

Mahlasela’s collaborations with other artists, such as Warren Haynes and the Dave Matthews Band, have introduced his music to broader audiences. He has performed at notable events like Live 8, Live Earth, and various Nelson Mandela tributes, including Mandela’s inauguration in 1994 and the Mandela Day celebrations.

His song “When You Come Back” gained additional recognition when it was used as ITV’s theme song for their World Cup coverage in 2010, further cementing Mahlasela’s impact on the global stage.

In 2012, Mahlasela received a lifetime achievement award at the South African Music Awards (SAMA), acknowledging his enduring contribution to the country’s music landscape.

Overall, Vusi Mahlasela’s music serves as a powerful voice for social justice and unity, earning him respect and admiration from audiences worldwide.

Music Career

Mahlasela’s musical journey began in the 1980s when he started performing at local clubs and venues. His soulful voice and heartfelt songs quickly garnered attention, and he soon became known for his ability to blend traditional South African folk music with contemporary influences.

  1. Album “The Voice” on ATO Records: Released on ATO Records, “The Voice” features the popular track “Weeping,” recorded with Josh Groban and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. This album helped expand Mahlasela’s international recognition.
  2. Participation in Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony: Mahlasela and other South African musicians participated in this 2002 documentary, reflecting on the apartheid era and the role of music in resistance and unity.
  3. Performances at TED Conferences: In 2007 and 2008, Mahlasela spoke and performed at TED Conferences, addressing apartheid and sharing his music with a global audience.
  4. Live Earth Concert: Mahlasela performed at the South African leg of Live Earth in July 2007, using his platform to raise awareness about environmental issues.
  5. Album “Guiding Star”: Released as “Naledi Ya Tsela” in South Africa, Mahlasela’s album “Guiding Star” earned him the 2007 South African Music Award (SAMA) for Best Male Artist.
  6. Participation in Playing for Change Videos: Mahlasela participated in videos for Playing for Change, notably featuring in renditions of “One Love” and “Stand By Me,” highlighting the power of music to unite people across cultures.
  7. Collaboration with Bela Fleck: In April 2009, Mahlasela joined Bela Fleck on his Throw Down Your Heart Tour and was featured on Fleck’s album of the same name, showcasing his versatility and collaborative spirit.
  8. Song “When You Come Back” for ITV’s FIFA World Cup Coverage: Mahlasela’s song “When You Come Back” was used as the main theme for ITV’s coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, gaining popularity among viewers and charting on the UK Official Singles Chart.
  9. Album “Say Africa”: Produced by blues legend Taj Mahal, Mahlasela’s album “Say Africa” was released on January 18, 2011, on ATO Records, further solidifying his reputation as a prominent voice in African music.

Activism and Social Justice

Throughout his career, Mahlasela has been a staunch advocate for social justice and human rights. His music often addresses themes of freedom, forgiveness, and reconciliation, reflecting his experiences growing up in apartheid-era South Africa.

Mahlasela’s talent and activism have earned him widespread recognition both in South Africa and abroad. He has performed at prestigious venues and events around the world, using his platform to raise awareness about issues such as apartheid, poverty, and HIV/AIDS.


Mahlasela has released several studio albums, live recordings, and soundtracks throughout his career. His discography includes acclaimed works such as “When You Come Back,” “Wisdom of Forgiveness,” “Naledi Ya Tsela (Guiding Star),” and “Say Africa.”

Here’s a summary of Vusi Mahlasela’s discography:

Studio Albums:

  1. “When You Come Back” (1992) – BMG Records Africa; Label Bleu/Indigo
  2. “Wisdom of Forgiveness” (1994) – RCA Victor, BMG
  3. “Silang Mabele” (1997) – BMG Africa; RCA Victor
  4. “Miyela Afrika” (2000) – BMG Records Africa
  5. “Jungle of Questions” (Year and label information not provided)

Naledi Ya Tsela (Guiding Star) (2007) – ATO Records (US); Wrasse Records (UK) Say Africa (2010) – Sony Music; ATO Records (US); Wrasse Records (UK)

Live Albums:

  1. “Live at the Bassline” (1999)
  2. “Sing to the People” (2013)


  1. “Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony” (2002)
  2. “Tsotsi” (2005)

Compilation Albums:

  1. “Live at KEXP Volume 6” (2010)
  2. “The Voice” (2003)


Vusi Mahlasela is often referred to as “The Voice” of South Africa, a title that speaks to his ability to articulate the hopes and struggles of his people through music. His songs continue to inspire and uplift audiences, serving as a reminder of the power of music to transcend boundaries and effect change.

Overall, Vusi Mahlasela’s contributions to music and activism have left an indelible mark on South African culture and society, making him a beloved figure both at home and abroad.

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