Performance Friday, October 10, 2014 | 8 PM

Hugh Masekela
Vusi Mahlasela

Twenty Years of Freedom

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Two of South Africa’s true freedom fighters and musical icons—legendary trumpeter, vocalist, and composer Hugh Masekela, and vocalist and songwriter Vusi Mahlasela—are joined by guest artists Somi and fellow South African Dave Matthews to celebrate 20 years of democracy and the end of Apartheid with a program of stirring freedom songs.


  • Hugh Masekela
  • Vusi Mahlasela
  • Dave Matthews, Guest Artist
  • Somi, Guest Artist

Event Duration

The program will last approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.


  • Hugh Masekela

    Legendary South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela is an innovator in the world music and jazz scene, touring the world as a performer, composer, producer, and activist. This iconic artist is best known for his Grammy-nominated hit single "Grazing in the Grass," which sold more than four million copies in 1968 and made him an international star. He later played an integral role in Paul Simon's tour behind the classic album Graceland, which was one of the first pop records to introduce African music to a broader public.

    Masekela showed musical ability from a young age, learning to play piano as a child. Inspired by the movie Young Man with a Horn, he soon took up the trumpet, mastering the instrument and performing with other aspiring musicians in the Huddleston Jazz Band, South Africa's first youth orchestra.He quickly mastered the instrument and began to play with other aspiring musicians in the Huddleston Jazz Band, South Africa's first youth orchestra. Masekela later secured a gig in the pit band for the musical King Kong, South Africa's first blockbuster theatrical success. He toured with the production for a sold-out year with Miriam Makeba, who would become his wife. Masekela later formed the Jazz Epistles with Dollar Brand (now known as Abdullah Ibrahim)-the first African jazz group to record an LP.

    But life was becoming unbearable under the strain of Apartheid. Masekela escaped South Africa with the help of anti-Apartheid activist Father Trevor Huddleston (who had helped Masekela acquire his first trumpet), enlisting the help of friends like Yehudi Menuhin and John Dankworth to get Masekela admitted into London's Guildhall School. Later on, with the assistance of Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte, Masekela was accepted into the Manhattan School of Music.

    Masekela's work as an activist raised international awareness of the South African government's restrictive Apartheid policies. In the 1990s, he finally returned home to South Africa and renewed the musical ties to his homeland and the sounds and rhythms of Central and West Africa. In 2004, he released his autobiography, Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela, a stunning memoir that is both heartbreaking and hilarious.

    Articulate and brilliantly musical in any number of genres, Hugh Masekela has been a defining force in music, the preservation of South Africa's musical heritage, the safety and well-being of its poorest citizens, as well as the struggle for freedom and human rights around the world.

    More Info

  • Vusi Mahlasela

    Throughout a musically and socially consequential career, South African singer-songwriter and poet-activist Vusi Mahlasela has successfully followed his muse and continued to give back to his country. After worldwide touring and international acclaim, Americans first caught a glimpse of Vusi in the lauded documentary film Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony and the accompanying soundtrack. After the release of the film, longtime admirer and fellow South African Dave Matthews signed Vusi to his own ATO Records label and released The Voice (2003), a collection of the best songs from Vusi's catalogue. In 2007, ATO released Guiding Star, Vusi's first full-length album in the US. The highly anticipated follow-up, Say Africa, was produced by Taj Mahal and recorded at Dave Matthews's studio in Charlottesville, Virginia, capturing Vusi's hope for the future of Africa: "Let all those who share in Mandela's greatest wish-to one day see an Africa that is at peace with herself-say 'Africa.'"

    After recording Say Africa, Vusi returned to his home in South Africa and was honored to help ring in the World Cup at Orlando Stadium. The concert was broadcast internationally to an estimated one billion viewers. Following his performance, he proudly introduced fellow South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the crowd. Vusi's anthemic song "When You Come Back" was the ITV network's official theme song for the World Cup in the UK.

    Other recent highlights include performing at Mandela Day in honor of Mandela's birthday, touring with Béla Fleck to support the release of his Grammy-winning album Throw Down Your Heart (on which there is a live track of Vusi and Béla), two TED Conference appearances, and performances with Paul Simon.

    In the midst of a busy international touring schedule, Vusi remains dedicated to his social activism and partnerships with non-profits, including his own Vusi Mahlasela Music Development Foundation, committed to the promotion of and preservation of African music. Other organizations that he actively supports are Oxfam, Acumen, the African Leadership Academy, and the ONE Campaign.

    More Info

  • Dave Matthews

    Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dave Matthews became a naturalized American citizen in 1980. His family moved frequently during his childhood, spending time in the US and England, in addition to South Africa; he credits their travels with expanding his frame of reference.

    Matthews, who took piano lessons as a child before picking up the guitar at age nine, moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1986 and formed Dave Matthews Band in 1991. The group has sold a collective 37 million CDs and DVDs since the 1994 release of its major label debut, Under the Table and Dreaming. With the release of 2012's Away from the World, Dave Matthews Band became the first group in chart history to have six consecutive studio albums debut atop the Billboard 200. Matthews's solo debut, 2003's Some Devil, was certified platinum and its lead single, "Gravedigger," won a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.

    Although he now resides in Seattle, Matthews still has close ties to Virginia, where he owns Maple Hill Farm, an organic farm, and Blenheim Vineyards, a winery designed to have minimal impact on the environment. Matthews has a long history of impactful charitable giving in the Charlottesville community, notably through the band's Bama Works Fund and the Horton Foundation Fund. In 2001, he joined Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp on the Board of Directors of Farm Aid, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to keep family farmers on their land. He also serves on the Governing Council of the Wilderness Society, a leading national conservation organization.

    More Info

  • Somi

    In late 2011, acclaimed East African vocalist and songwriter Somi decided to move from New York City to Lagos, Nigeria, for 18 months in search of new inspiration. The result: a new album she calls The Lagos Music Salon. Released in August 2014, this CD marks her major label debut on Sony Music/OKeh Records and landed atop both the iTunes and Amazon jazz charts. The album material draws from the tropical city's boastful cosmopolitanism, urgent inspiration, and giant spirit, straddling the worlds of African jazz, soul, and pop with a newfound ease and a voice.

    Born in Illinois to immigrants from Rwanda and Uganda, African and jazz legacies are always crucial to Somi's sound. Often referred to as a modern-day Miriam Makeba, JazzTimes magazine describes her live performance as "the earthy gutsiness of Nina Simone blended with the vocal beauty of Dianne Reeves."

    The Lagos Music Salon is the highly anticipated follow up to the young singer's last studio album, If the Rains Come First (ObliqSound)-a stunning collection of self-penned, story-based songs that featured her longtime mentor and legendary trumpet player Hugh Masekela.

    As her career has taken off, Somi's talents have been called upon for collaborations and live performances alongside a diverse cast of artists, including Mos Def, Baaba Maal, John Legend, Billy Childs, Paul Simon, Danilo Pérez, Idan Raichel, Jennifer Hudson, and many more. In 2011, she released her first live album of performances at the venerable Jazz Standard in New York City.

    Most recently, Somi was the recipient of The Doris Duke Foundation's French-American Jazz Exchange Composers' Grant; she has since begun an exploration of African and Arab jazz traditions alongside acclaimed French-Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf while investigating the role of the female voice during the Arab Spring protests. That body of work recently premiered at The Kennedy Center's 2014 Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival.

    Widely acknowledged as an arts scholar, Somi is a TED Fellow, an inaugural Association of Performing Arts Presenters Fellow, a 2013 Park Avenue Armory Artist-in-Residence, and the founder of New Africa Live, a non-profit organization dedicated to celebrating the very best of contemporary African artists working in the performance, visual, and literary arts.

    Somi and her band continue to perform at international venues around the world. In her heart of hearts, she is an East African girl who loves family, poetry, and freedom.

    More Info


Up Township (Live)
Hugh Masekela
Sheer Sound CC

The Program

Two of South Africa’s true freedom fighters and renowned musical icons come together to honor twenty years since the start of democracy in South Africa and the official end of Apartheid. In a collaborative performance, Hugh Masekela and Vusi Mahlasela celebrate this anniversary in Twenty Years of Freedom, a concert that features South Africa’s freedom songs, including many of the artists’ own. While both have been like-minded musical comrades at home in South Africa for years and shared the stage on several occasions, this marks the first time these two iconic artists have toured together.

Vusi Mahlasela—simply known as “The Voice” in his home country—is celebrated for his distinct, powerful voice and his poetic, optimistic lyrics. His songs of hope connect Apartheid-scarred South Africa with its promise for a better future. Raised in the township of Mamelodi (where he still resides), Vusi became a singer-songwriter and poet-activist at an early age, teaching himself how to play guitar and later joining the Congress of South African Writers. After When You Come Back, his popular debut on BMG Africa, Vusi was asked to perform at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994. He has shared the stage with Dave Matthews Band, Sting, Paul Simon, and Taj Mahal, among many others. Perhaps his biggest gig was in 2010 when he helped welcome the World Cup to South Africa at Orlando Stadium in Soweto. Vusi has released seven studio albums to date; his latest release is Sing to the People (ATO Records), a celebratory live album looking back on twenty years as a recording artist.

Hugh Masekela is a world-renowned flugelhornist, trumpeter, bandleader, composer, singer, and defiant political voice who remains deeply connected at home, while his international career sparkles. In 1968, his instrumental single “Grazing in the Grass” went to the top of the American pop charts and was a worldwide smash, elevating Hugh onto the international stage. His subsequent solo career has spanned five decades, during which time he has released more than 40 albums (and been featured on countless more) and has worked with such diverse artists as Harry Belafonte, Dizzy Gillespie, The Byrds, Fela Kuti, Marvin Gaye, Herb Alpert, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, and the late Miriam Makeba. In 1990, Masekela returned home, following the legalization of the African National Congress (ANC) and the release of Nelson Mandela—an event anticipated in Masekela’s anti-Apartheid anthem “Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela),” which had been a rallying cry around the world.
Program Notes


"Grazing in the Grass"

"Vusi Performing at Mandela's 90th Birthday"

UBUNTU: Music and Arts of South Africa

Lead funding for UBUNTU: Music and Arts of South Africa is provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, The Howard Gilman Foundation, and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Additional support is provided by the Mai Family Foundation, South African Tourism, and South African Airways.

UBUNTU is held in collaboration with the Department of Arts and Culture of the Republic of South Africa and the South African Consulate General in New York in celebration of 20 years of freedom and democracy.
This performance is part of Around the Globe, and UBUNTU: Legendary Performers.

Part of