In perspective: Telling the apartheid story

Vusi Mahlasela
at Starr Hill
November 25

The day after Thanksgiving has transformed into consumer day. People who wouldn't consider getting out of bed at the crack of dawn to attend a peace rally or perform an act of public service will motivate to be the first in line at Circuit City or Best Buy for a 60 percent off sale.

In response to such nutty stuff-mania, others have joined forces to declare that day Buy Nothing Day­ devoted to protesting the actions of those who put their focus on the material. [See Photophile, page 30.]On one side you have consumers, on the other you have the consumed. Either way, shopping is still the focus of everyone involved.

This year none of that chaos concerned me. Maybe it had something to do with the profound influence Vusi Mahlasela made during his performance the previous Tuesday at Starr Hill. Beyond his musicianship, knowledge of and empathy for the apartheid struggle that birthed his genius dwarfed the trivial nature of the consumer debate.

The man is a testament to the power of music and the passion of the oppressed. He's a legend in his own right, having achieved superstar status in his country of South Africa because of music he composed and performed for the native people during apartheid. The opportunity to see him perform in an intimate venue the size of Starr Hill was a holiday gift more precious than any I can think of.

Mahlasela is a powerful presence with or without a guitar and microphone. He radiates honest humility and genuine kindness, beckoning his audience from the moment he sets foot onto the stage. When he picks up his guitar, something magical happens. His voice and guitar lock into an energy larger than everyone in the room when he begins to testify about what he has experienced and felt in his homeland.

When his voice soars– sweeping with perfect pitch through scales and octaves– he's in complete harmony with what he is doing on stage. His movement is second nature, his demeanor, absolutely embracing.

Mahlasela's set seemed to be over almost as soon as he began. I could have sat in my seat for another hour and not noticed the time. After hearing him, the world became much bigger than holiday shopping. Who you are has nothing to do with what you want. It's what you do with what you have that matters.

I'll keep that in mind this holiday.

Vusi Mahlasela