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VUSI MAHLASELA Live Album Shebeen Queen Out Today on ATO Records

August 14, 2020

Photo credit: Andre Badenhorst
“Vusi Mahlasela is more than just a popular musician in South Africa. His simple yet powerful storytelling has helped connect and carry a nation recovering from an apartheid past… He recognizes the power that his talent has in bringing hope to others in South Africa.” – NPR
“For more than 25 years, the legendary singer has been celebrated globally for his powerful vocals and universal messages of freedom and human kindness.” – CNN
South Africa’s Vusi Mahlasela releases his jubilant new live album Shebeen Queen, a collection of 10 traditional folk songs from his home township of Mamelodi, today on ATO Records. Mahlasela, one of his country’s most revered singer-songwriters, named the record after his late grandmother Ida, who earned the nickname “Shebeen Queen” after her shebeen (speakeasy) became known for its festive impromptu musical gatherings. Mahlasela and his band shut down the street in front of Ida’s former shebeen to throw a neighborhood party and perform the songs that make up Shebeen Queen, which the New York Times has already called “pure upbeat three-chord euphoria; the rhythm guitars are having a party of their own.” Today, alongside the album’s release, Mahlasela also releases a short film that shows the concert as well as his personal memories and connections to the neighborhood. Watch the film below and order Shebeen Queen HERE.
Vusi Mahlasela - Shebeen Queen (Live)
Shebeen Queen is the new live album of traditional township songs from Vusi Mahlasela, the legendary activist and singer-songwriter known as “The Voice” in his native South Africa. The “shebeen queen” of the title is Mahlasela’s late grandmother Ida (whom he calls Magogo), who raised him in the township of Mamelodi (meaning “mother of melody”), where he still lives today. Following her husband’s murder in 1961, Ida opened a shebeen (speakeasy) and began selling homebrewed beer (umqombothi) to make her living. Her space became known for its lively musical gatherings at night, where the townspeople would use buckets, tins, and plastic drums as instruments, and Ingoma’buksu -music rooted in Mbube culture, meaning “Songs of the Night” – would be celebrated with everyone singing together in full voices. Ida became known as the “Shebeen Queen.” As a boy, Mahlasela saw a man playing a guitar at one of these gatherings and was inspired to build his first guitar from fishing line and a cooking oil can.
Shebeen Queen is a celebration of the vibrant musical culture of his hometown, first encountered at Ida’s shebeen. “Ida was a strong woman and was respected by all in our community,” he says. “In 1976, when I witnessed the Soweto Uprising, my political education began and I realized how important music was. I began writing songs of justice, of freedom, of revolution, of love, of peace and of life. For these songs, I was arrested and thrown into solitary confinement. Magogo was always there for me –she fought for me, protected me and stood up for what was right. She was and still is my greatest hero. I decided I wanted to record some of these great Township songs in an effort to preserve this important music, so critical to our community and to our history. I wanted to honour this music and my grandmother by recording a live show, right here in Mamelodi at Magogo’s house.”
Vusi Mahlasela is a world-renowned anti-apartheid activist and folk musician who has released nine beloved albums over the last two decades. He has collaborated with Dave Matthews, Béla Fleck, Taj Mahal, Warren Haynes, and Angelique Kidjo and shared stages across the world with Sting, Paul Simon, Dave Matthews Band, Josh Groban, Natalie Merchant, and more. In 1994, Mahlasela performed at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration; he also served as an ambassador for Mandela’s 46664 campaign, raising awareness about the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa. Mahlasela performed at the FIFA World Cup Kick Off concert in Soweto, South Africa in 2010, and in 2012 he was honored by SAMA (South African Music Awards) with a lifetime achievement award. He holds honorary Doctorate degrees from both Rhodes University and the University of Kwazulu-Natal. South African President Ramaphosa recently recognized Vusi cultural contributions with a national “Ubuntu and Culture” award.