World Music in Mozambique

Border Crossing

Vusi Mahlasela & Jive Connection in Maputo
"The audience created the show"
A highlight of the three day jazz fiesta in the first week of April in Maputo was the show of Vusi Mahlasela & Jive Connection.

Vusi was born in Lady Selbourne, Pretoria in 1965 and grew up in the Mamelodi township. He has performed extensively the world over, working with great musicians like George Benson, Kenny G, Ismael Lo, UB40, The Wailers, Lebo M, Sinead O'Connor, Dave Matthews and Alpha Blondy. Now it was the first time that he performed for the „people next door".

„We met so many talented young musicians during our workshops", Vusi describes this first mozambican experience, „and by the audience of our concert we felt both: the capacity for enthusiasm and a lot of attention for the meaning of our songs. It was amazing. We thought mozambican people are a bit shy because of the existing language problems. But the people came to me and said ´I want to shake your hands`."

Vusi Mahlasela and the Jive Connection came together in 1991. Ten years later they released the album „Special Delivery", a record made with support from the Swedish National Council of Culture Affairs. On stage at the French Mozambican Cultural Center they showed why this Swedish - South African Connection already works over a decade. Vusis amazing vocal range and guitar genius and some of the finest swedish musicians ever disembarked at the Mavalane-Airport found together to an inspirational session and energetic jamming.

„The band is like a project", describes Africa experienced percussionist and vocalist Erik Ridderstolpe,"because when we are back home in Sweden we all play with other groups. It is a big effort to make a tour happen and it needs a lot of planning. But audiences like here in Mozambique makes us forget this difficulties. The concert was not a kind of one-way-communication and this will benefit our music as well. It was the audience that created the show."

Vusi Mahlasela rose to prominence as a political poet in South Africa's turbulent mid-eighties, strongly influenced by the music and poetry of Chilean protest poet Victor Jara. „I started to know the poetry and music of Victor Jara in 1988 after joining the Congress of South African Writers."

Vusi has released three highly acclaimed albums: „When You Come Back" in 1992, „Wisdom Of Forgiveness" in 1994 and „Silang Mabele" in 1997. In 1999 he released a live album together with zimbabwean guitarist Louis Mhlanga who moved to Johannesburg. Unfortunately none of this records is distributed in Mozambique.

Over all this years of international success Vusis commitment in the Mamelodi community didn´t got diminished. He has set up the Mahlasela Music Foundation to help develop young musical talent. „We launched the Music Foundation last year. But the idea is already dated back five years." MMM will visit the Mahlasela Music Foundation to benefit with this experiences the music education projects in Mozambique.

2001 was the year with the biggest variety of african artists performing in Mozambique and your concerts in Beira and Maputo highlighted this positive balance. Your performances were regarded as the best by both, the critics and the audience. How do you judge this mozambican experience in your personal 2001 balance?

(OM): As a great honour and compliment from the people in Mozambique. This is also a very important to me personally - to know that your neighbours and friends are hearing you and it feels very good to learn that they like what they hear and see when I perform. That is the most important factor in an artist's life. After taking so long to get back to Mozambique - it is over a decade now - this really surprises me and makes me very happy!

Your music is very popular in Mozambique, not only because of your unmistakable voice and guitar playing but also because of the messages you impart through your songs. Did you notice any difference from the reception of your audiences in the centre and the south of Mozambique?

(OM): Not really, I was surprised by the very large turnout at the stadium where we played in Beira. I have no idea how many Zimbabweans were in that audience but what was surprising to me .... was that so many people in the audience seemed to know most of my songs and even sang the lyrics .. whether they knew what they meant almost didn't matter but it seemed to me that they understood the messages.

The common factor between the audiences from the south and central Mozambique was their patience and unqualified support .... even when we experienced power problems at the shows, there was no sign of violence or unrest, no cans being thrown at the band. Zimbabweans unfortunately are not always so patient and well behaved! The people from Maputo also impressed me with their capacity to organise themselves ... despite changing the venue both days at the last minute due to heavy rain, at the basketball stadium, there were lines of vendors selling ice-cold drinks, kebabs and all kinds of merchandise to serve the queues of people. The involvement of the radio station both days we were in Maputo, in helping advertise the change of events in such a committed way, showed how serious they are in supporting their listeners and music lovers in Mozambique.

Did you find any pirate copies of your albums during your stay in Mozambique in the streets of Maputo or Beira?

(OM): Too many and several people brought them to me to sign!! For an artist it is upsetting to see pirated copies of one's music for which people have still paid good money. Not just because I am failing to receive any royalties for composing and recording the music, but the vast majority of pirated cassettes are very poor quality and not enjoyable to listen to. In Zimbabwe, it has become cheaper to buy cassettes straight from the record companies. They issue vendor's licenses very cheaply which enables many more people to buy straight from the recording company to eek out a living selling them even across Zimbabwe's borders. It is actually cheaper than buying blank cassettes across the counter and having to photocopy the sleeves. By allowing registered vendors to do this, all the artists receive a royalty for every cassette that those vendors buy ..... so everybody's happy!

There is more interaction of African music in Paris than in Maputo or Harare. What is your opinion about the need for african unity and more african interaction? For example the changing of experiences through the fight against music piracy or for intellectual property rights?

(OM): Of course more forums are needed to provide the opportunity for musicians and the music industries in different countries to come together and develop policy which creates legitimate instruments that represent musician's rights, especially intellectual property. There are many Conventions internationally that have to be observed by all those organisations that participate in the music industry. Some of these conventions and laws are being honoured here in Africa, but the environment to support and maintain the local formation of legal authorities to tackle these issues has to be supported and enforced at governmental levels.

Many african music stars are living in Europe. What is your motivation/inspiration to stay based in your motherland?

(OM): Very strong - most of my inspiration for writing music comes from my motherland, Zimbabwe. Travelling naturally exposes us to many fantastic sounds and new rhythms but I have no desire to go and live in Europe. I am enjoying exploring the SADC region just as much as Europe, the States and U.K. I want to be able to watch my children grow up and make their way through life. Although life in Zimbabwe is not healthy at present, by remaining there, we can help rebuild the economy and try and lift the spirits of the people.

Do you have possibilities to support new talents from your country?

(OM): I am Chairman of the Young Musician's Association and that has been a useful way to interact with young and exciting new talent. However, my busy schedule makes it difficult to support young groups consistently. I have engaged in quite a number of projects with young musicians in the recording studio over the years. I am also conscious of the fact that I can help lead them by way of example.

Mozambique is a country with a rich music tradition, which is endangered to get lost because of a strong domination of music from abroad and many poor local keyboard productions, substituting mozambican guitars, xylophones, horns and drums. In one of your concerts you appealled to the mozambican audience to respect and develop their own culture. Did you mentioned this recognizing this critical situation for the music heritage of Mozambique?

(OM): The need to recognise the value of your own culture and rich music tradition should not have to be taught and it is true that our traditional instruments are slowly being superceded by modern instruments. It is up to each and every one of us (musicians) to explore the ways that our traditional instruments can be maintained when creating new music or, how they can be adapted to fuse with modern technology. Studio technology can accommodate any instrument - keyboard sampling can never replace the essence of the mbira sound or the xylophone or a traditional drum. Ironically, the international market favours the use of traditional instruments when listening to music from the African continent and so it remains the responsibility of us, as African musicians, to keep traditional instruments alive.

You will release your new album very soon, what we can expect?

(OM): The album, which is called "VUNZHE MOTO" (meaning burning ember or hot coal") has been a challenging one and I have introduced some new musical ideas. The recording was done at SABC M2 and Forest Studios in Johannesburg and the quality is very pleasing to my ears ..... and I hope the same will go for my fans.

The lyrics in my songs are always interpreted in different ways but the underlying message of most of the songs focusses on the importance of taking responsibility for one's actions in all aspects of one's daily life. Like the Aids pandemic - "the challenge is for each one of us to play a role in the fight against aids. It is not the Government that will stop the spread of HIV..... it is you and me!

Corruption, greed and violence must never be allowed to get the better of us when there are so many natural forces against our very existence, so why add to the suffering of innocent people?

We are hoping to release the album through an offical distribution company in Mozambique by March 2002 so that pirated copies will become a thing of the past!!"

- End of Page -
Hosted by AFRICA-Iwalewa