Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on the Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “Nakupenda Africa” (featuring Angelique Kidjo) by Vusi Mahlasela from the 2011 album Say Africa on ATO Records.
Considering himself as much a global citizen as an international troubadour, Vusi Mahlasela is a positive voice for hope and peace in all that he does. While his singing and songwriting skills are so beloved that his fellow South Africans call him simply “The Voice,” Vusi Mahlasela carries his message through his actions as well words. Now that his years of protesting Apartheid are over, he has become an ambassador for 46664, a global HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaign started by Nelson Mandela, at whose inauguration he also performed. In addition to running his own organization, VMMDF (the Vusi Mahlasela Music Development Foundation), which he started to promote and preserve the traditions of African music, he also partners with OXFAM, The African Leadership Academy, the ONE campaign and other non-profits. But all of this is not to brag but rather to carry forth the spirit of Ubuntu, an African concept which the Zulus summarized by saying “a person is a person through other people.”
Vusi Mahlasela’s music and its message of hope has drawn fans from beyond his native (and current) residence in the Mamelodi Township. He has performed with Paul Simon, introduced fellow South African, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, onstage, and recorded with popular musicians like Josh Groban and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. For his current album, Say Africa, ATO label owner Dave Mathews (who was himself born in South Africa) brought Vusi to his own studio in Charlottesville, Virginia, to record with renowned bluesman Taj Mahal as producer. And on today’s featured song, the Grammy-winning singer Angélique Kidjo joins Vusi on vocals. “Nakupenda Africa” is literally a love song for Africa (the title means “I love you, Africa” in Swahili) and became an instant hit when the two performed it at the FIFA World Cup Kick-off Concert at Orlando Stadium in Soweto.
Over the past several years, Vusi Mahlasela has performed live on KEXP on a number of occasions and even ended up on last year’s compilation Live on KEXP Volume Six with the song he performed again in our studio just a couple of months ago. Check out the video for his new album’s title track, “Say Africa”: