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TEDGlobal 2007

Vusi Mahlasela: "Thula Mama"

Filmed:

South African singer-songwriter Vusi Mahlasela dedicates his song, "Thula Mama," to all women -- and especially his grandmother.

- Musician, activist
South African singer-songwriter Vusi Mahlasela was a crucial artistic voice during the fight against apartheid, and now in the new modern-day nation. Blending traditional African music with soul and blues, his music showcases powerful vocals and poetic lyrics. Full bio

I’d like to dedicate this one to all the women in South Africa --
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those women who refused to dwindle in the midst of apartheid.
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And, of course, I’m dedicating it also to my grandmother,
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whom I think really played quite a lot of important roles,
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especially for me when I was an activist, and being harassed by the police.
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You will recall that in 1976, June 16, the students of South Africa boycotted
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the language of Afrikaans as the medium of the oppressor,
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as they were sort of like really told
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that they must do everything in Afrikaans --
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biology, mathematics -- and what about our languages?
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And the students wanted to speak to the government,
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and police answered with bullets.
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So every year, June 16, we will commemorate
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all those comrades or students who died.
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And I was very young then. I think I was 11 years,
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and I started asking questions,
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and that’s when my political education started.
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And I joined, later on, the youth organization
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under the African National Congress.
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So as part of organizing this and whatever,
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this commemoration, the police will round us up
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as they call us leaders.
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And I used to run away from home,
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when I know that maybe the police might be coming
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around the ninth or 10th of June or so.
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And my grandmother one time said,
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"No, look, you’re not going to run away.
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This is your place, you stay here."
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And indeed, the police came -- because they’ll just arrest us
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and put us in jail and release us whenever they feel like, after the 20th or so.
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So it was on the 10th of June, and they came, and they surrounded the house,
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and my grandmother switched off all the lights in the house,
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and opened the kitchen door.
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And she said to them, "Vusi's here, and you're not going to take him tonight.
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I'm tired of you having to come here, harassing us,
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while your children are sleeping peacefully in your homes.
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He is here, and you're not going to take him.
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I've got a bowl full of boiling water -- the first one who comes in here, gets it."
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And they left.
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(Applause) (Music)
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♫ Thula Mama, Thula Mama, Thula Mama, Thula Mama. ♫
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♫ Through the mist of the tears in your eyes on my childhood memory, ♫
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♫ I know the truth in your smile, ♫
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♫ I know the truth in your smile, ♫
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♫ piercing through the gloom of my ignorance. ♫
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♫ Oh, there is a mama lying down sleeping ♫
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♫ you're very ill and your heart crying. ♫
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♫ Wondering, wondering, wondering, wondering where is this world coming to. ♫
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♫ Is it right the children have to fend for themselves? No, no, no, no, no. no. ♫
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♫ Is it right heaping trouble on an old lady's head? ♫
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♫ So unlucky faceless people. ♫
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♫ Thula Mama Mama, Thula Mama. Thula Mama Mama. ♫
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♫ Thula Mama, Thula Mama, Thula Mama Mama, Thula Mama ♫
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♫ Tomorrow it’s going to be better. ♫
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♫ Tomorrow it's going to be better to climb, Mama. ♫
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♫ Thula Mama, Thula Mama. ♫
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♫ Am I to break into the song like the blues man or troubadour. ♫
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♫ And then from long distance in no blues club am I to sing, ♫
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♫ baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby. ♫
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♫ Should I now stop singing of love, ♫
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♫ now that my memory’s surrounded by blood? ♫
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♫ Sister, why oh why do we at times mistake a pimple for a cancer? ♫
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♫ So who are they who says, no more love poems now? ♫
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♫ I want to sing a song of love ♫
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♫ for that woman who jumped the fences pregnant ♫
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♫ and still gave birth to a healthy child. ♫
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♫ Softly I walk into the sun rays of the smile ♫
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♫ that will ignite my love song, my song of life, ♫
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♫ my song of love, my song of life, my song of love, ♫
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♫ my song of life, my song of love, my song of life. ♫
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♫ Ooh, I’ve not tried to run away from song, ♫
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♫ I hear a persistent voice, more powerful than the enemy bombs. ♫
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♫ The song that washed our lives and the rains of our blood. ♫
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♫ My song of love and my song of life, my song of love, ♫
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♫ my song of life, my song of love, ♫
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♫ my song of life, my song of love -- I want everybody to sing with me -- ♫
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♫ my song of life, my song of love, my song of life -- everybody sing with me -- ♫
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♫ my song of life, my song of love -- I can’t hear you -- ♫
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♫ my song of love, my song of life -- you can do better -- ♫
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♫ my song of life, my song of love -- keep singing, keep singing -- ♫
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♫ my song of love, my song of life, yes, my song of love -- ♫
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♫ you can do better than that -- ♫
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♫ my song of life, yes, my song of love, my song of life, my song of love -- ♫
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♫ keep singing, keep singing, keep singing -- my song of love. ♫
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♫ Oh yeah. My song of -- a love song, my song of life. Sing. A love song, my song of life. Sing. ♫
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♫ Love song, my song of life. Sing. Love song, my song of life. Sing. ♫
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♫ Love song, my song of life. Sing. Love song, my song of life. ♫
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♫ Love song, my song of life. ♫
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(Applause)
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About the Speaker:

Vusi Mahlasela - Musician, activist
South African singer-songwriter Vusi Mahlasela was a crucial artistic voice during the fight against apartheid, and now in the new modern-day nation. Blending traditional African music with soul and blues, his music showcases powerful vocals and poetic lyrics.

Why you should listen

Vusi Mahlasela has dedicated his life to using music and words to inspire change. As a young boy in South Africa, he was routinely watched by the police because of his anti-apartheid poetry and his open support of student protest. During the final fight against apartheid, his songs of protest and solidarity became anthems -- stirring the South African people to create their new nation.

His lyrics touch on themes of love, family, hope and pride. Working with his own band and an international crew of genre-bending musicians, including Ladysmith Black Mambazo and fellow South African Dave Matthews, Mahlasela crafts a rich, propulsive sound that helps his words reach directly into the heart.

His latest album is Guiding Star (2007), of which Dirty Linen magazine says:

"Contributions by Dave Matthews, Australian didjeridu player Xavier Rudd, Welsh singer/songwriter Jem, and slide guitarist Derek Trucks transforms Guiding Star into an Earth-spanning celebration, but they only enhance Mahlasela's Garfunkel-meets-Marley vocals, harp-like guitar fingerpicking, and mastery of his homeland's diverse musical traditions."

More profile about the speaker
Vusi Mahlasela | Speaker | TED.com