06th May2012

Vusi Mahlasela ‘Say Africa’ (Wrasse/ATO) 4/5

by ukvibe

A new name to this writer, South African singer-songwriter and guitarist Vusi Mahlasela has a definite folk-blues sound to his approach, though thoroughly grounded in South African music, and has paired up here with ace blues singer-songwriter-guitarist and all round world music aficionado Taj Mahal who undertakes overall production duties as well as guesting on a couple of numbers. The result is a wonderfully cohesive and relaxed sound, and an album that just may emerge as one of those burner releases that slowly but surely becomes indispensable summer listening. An obvious single is the opener ‘Say Africa’ which has a catchy mid-tempo beat and gospel-inspired background vocals. More intimate is the folk-blues song ‘Woza’ where Mahlasela begins singing in one of the traditional South African languages before shifting into English in the second part. This song has on old-style township feel and is another winner. For a change in ambience, look no further than the shuffling ‘Ro yo tshela kae’ which is an uplifting song complete with gospel vocals. Indeed a gospel atmosphere reigns over the duet number with guest singer Angélique Kidjo on ‘Nakupenda Africa’ which is a breezy, percussion-led piece. It has to be said that Taj Mahal, acting as producer, gives an extra dimension to this album and with results like this, he ought to produce more. His sensitivity to marrying traditional African rhythms with a touch of African-American folk and blues is exemplary. With Paul Simon touring the UK this summer to revisit the seminal ‘Graceland ‘album, Vusi Mahlasela would make the perfect accompanying artist to start off an evening’s proceedings. Expect bigger things from this gentle voiced singer. Tim Stenhouse

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