Vusi Mahlasela, one of South Africa's most legendary musicians, tells a fascinating story of the journey that has been travelled by his country’s music. And, as South Africa prepares to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup kick-off concert at Orlando Stadium on 10 June, he sees the event as a great reward for the hosts and an epic part of South Africa’s story – a story of love, hardship, perennial struggles, freedom and triumph. It has been a triumph over oppression, over censorship, and has led to the reincarnation of his country into a modern democracy that not only attracts 11 million foreign visitors annually, but prides itself in being an influential role-player.
Music, he argues, is like a weapon. After all, it was his music that was used in political rallies and demonstrations against apartheid in the early 1980s. The songs he composed were used as anthems by protesters who were demanding change. However, now that the struggle for freedom is over in South Africa, he believes there is a need for a new revolution. Just as it did in the past, music, he insists, can once again play a pivotal role in remoulding South African society.
Africans, he states, are people who pride themselves in a rhythm and acrobatic dance moves. They move with “passion, enthusiasm and tender care.” In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Mahlasela talks at length about his love-affair with South Africa, African music and how the 2010 FIFA World Cup can be used as a tool to bridge differences and user in a new era in the continent.
He will be among a star-studded list of international, African and South African musicians who are set to light up Soweto. The list includes Alicia Keys, Amadou & Mariam, Angelique Kidjo, Black Eyed Peas, BLK JKS, John Legend, Juanes, Shakira, The Parlotones, Tinariwen, Vieux Farka Toure, Hugh Masekela, the Soweto-based Mzansi Youth Choir, two-time Grammy Award winners and three-time SAMA winners the Soweto Gospel Choir, as well as African hip hop artist K’NAA.
FIFA.com: You will be part of the FIFA World Cup kick-off concert in Soweto on 10 June. How do you feel about partaking in such an event?
Vusi Mahlasela: It’s a great honour and a privilege for me. The first time I heard that I had been included in this concert, I was overwhelmed, I couldn’t believe it. It gave me a great feeling. At least I could see that my work is appreciated and to be selected on this stage - a global stage - means a lot to me and my country. It means that people understand and acknowledge the journey that I have travelled, the contribution I have made in making people happy and bringing joy to them.
You have performed in many foreign countries. Now you are coming home, and sharing a stage with international artists in a event that takes place on the eve of the first FIFA World Cup on African soil.
I’m very excited to be sharing a stage with all these artists, they are big names in the music industry and, for me, it’s an honour. Music, like football, is a universal language - it brings people together from different colours, nationality and cultures. I’m sure we will all add our bit in making this concert and this World Cup a memorable one. I have been involved in many top concerts before, but this one is special; its on the eve of a very momentous event, so it's on a different level. We will be sharing our joy with the rest of the continent and the rest of the world. We believe, through this World Cup, we will change stereotypes about Africa and South Africa in particular. What is important, however, is that this concert will be held in Soweto. That has a lot of significance – it's where the history of this country was shaped.
Tell us a little about South African music. What can people visiting South Africa to watch this concert expect?
As you might know, South Africa is a country rich in culture and tradition. We have a lot of good musicians that have contributed a lot in the music industry, not only here but internationally. But you will remember that for many years (before 1994), many were not recognised here at home because of the internal struggle, a struggle for freedom. We have our own style, we have our own rhythm – Africans celebrate in a unique way. For example, you have the Kwaito music (a genre of music initiated in the early 1990s that comprises of house with a slow tempo). Africans love to celebrate, they love having a good time. We have a unique of celebrating. So, this concert is about showcasing our proud history and sharing with the rest of the world part of our culture. I therefore urge all Africans to come and be part of this celebration.
We often hear about the role of music in uplifting the spirits of people in South Africa during apartheid. Why was it important to use music to fight the system for you personally?
Music was something special to all of us, it spoke to people’s emotions. When this country was going through its toughest times, people relied on music to bring joy and happiness. That is what people like me did - we composed songs that brought hope and inspiration to people. We used the great leaders of that time like Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, [Oliver] Tambo, to send a message to our people. There were a lot of people who gave hope to the people, not only through music but through poetry. We had a responsibility to remind our people about the daily hardships and talk about the brighter tomorrow, and the only way we could do that was through music because many platforms were banned in this country. When we had rallies, we would perform to give hope to the people. In the post-apartheid South Africa, music has another role. We need to speak about a different message. Through music, we can heal our country and live the Mandela dream.