South African artist Vusi Mahlasela was raised by his grandmother in the Pretoria township of Mamelodi, where evenings unfolded with euphoric music. In homage to his grandmother, Idah, Mahlasela is releasing a live album of traditional songs from the township and from the era of big gatherings at his grandmother’s shebeen, or speakeasy. In anticipation of the album’s August 14 release on ATO Records, a preview video is out today to whet our appetites:
One of my earliest encounters with South African music was hearing Next Stop Soweto Vol 2., a compilation of “township sounds” that amazed me with its musicianship and downright joyous rhythms and rollicking harmonies. It led me into a whole universe of great music, so I’m especially excited for this one.
Mahlasela and his band shut down the street in front of his grandmother’s home to record the album, as all the songs are strongly tied to that place. The album is named Shebeen Queen, one of his grandmother’s nicknames.
“Idah was a strong woman and was respected by all in our community,” Mahlasela explained via press release. “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 thought there would be no better way to honor this music and my grandmother than recording a live show, right here in Mamelodi at Magogo’s house. Long live the Shebeen Queen.”