Vusi Mahlasela sings for change 

It takes only a few minutes of talking with Vusi Mahlasela to understand where the special beauty of his voice originates. The South African freedom fighter’s conviction is so deep, his commitment to human dignity so complete and unshakeable, that his music and lyrics cannot help but reflect the purity of his spirit.

Born in Lady Selborne, South Africa, in 1965, Mahlasela had the good fortune of growing up in an artistic community. Enamored of music, he built his first guitar out of tin and fishing line while still a child, and wrote songs and poetry as a teenager.

After joining youth organizations protesting South Africa’s apartheid government, a period of police harassment and imprisonment led him to join the Congress of South African Writers and intensify his work for freedom.

After his country’s liberation from apartheid, Mahlasela’s performance at the 1994 inauguration of Nelson Mandela led to his current work as an ambassador to Mandela’s 46664 Foundation, raising global awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Although Mahlasela has long been renowned in South Africa, it was not until he appeared in the 2003 documentary "Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony," that America took notice. Both the film and his follow-up song collection, "The Voice," blew people away, inspiring critical accolades from The New York Times, Billboard and a host of other publications.

"I was taught that when you see a problem," Mahlasela explained by phone from his New York hotel room, "you don’t have to accept it as a problem. Instead, you have to enjoy solving it. You need to reach deep within the innermost self. Yes, there are places where you are grieving inside. But to be able to reach out to other people, just by acknowledging, by singing, by putting out a prayer, by smiling, will make a change."

Mahlasela reaches out with brilliance on his new CD, a memorable assemblage titled "Guiding Star." In songs of freedom, justice, happiness and love, he infuses ballads, tributes and Afro-pop with soulful beauty and unforced clarity. The quality of the guest singers, including Dave Matthews and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, evidences the depth of respect that his fellow artists feel for him.

On Thursday, Mahlasela headlines a benefit for the 46664 Foundation at the Palace of Fine Arts that also features Taj Mahal, Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. The concert promises to address global issues while showcasing a variety of styles from South Africa.

"The concert is a celebratory roadmap of where the revolution started," he says. "Now we need to bring morality back into the global village, so that we honor each other. By rooting out problems like greed and corruption, we can encourage a world of culture and peace."

Vusi Mahlasela & Friends

Where: Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: $41.50 to $61.50

Contact: (415) 421-8497 or www.ticketmaster.com

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Staff Report

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