Masekela and Mahlasela: 20 Years of Freedom

“I am as happy as a pig in mud,” is how Hugh Masekela said he felt about performing with Vusi Mahlasela as their 20 Years of Freedom concert tour. The crowd that filled the George Washington University Lisner Auditorium on Sunday, February 22 was even happier. They had dug out of the heavy snowfall, navigated the icy roads, and braved the biting cold for a treat that warmed their hearts and was well worth the trek!

The collaboration of the two African Jazz greats celebrates 20 years of a democratic post-apartheid South Africa. It marks the musicians’ roles in the anti-apartheid movement (Masakela was exiled and Mahlasela imprisoned) and central role that music played in the struggle against apartheid. Many songs carried hidden messages, inspired hope, and called for resilience under tough and inhumane circumstances said Mahlasela.

Although the evening started off with a slower and more reflective mood, it was quickly lifted by the artists’ humor and playfulness as they introduced songs, recounted historical events, and explained elements of Southern African culture.
Known as The Voice for his stirring and powerful voice, Mahlasela strummed his guitar and explained the Southern African notion of Ubuntu: it emphasizes human kindness, empathy, compassion, and forgiveness. The term also roughly translates to “I am because of you and because of who we all are,” added horn-player and vocalist Masekela. 

The set included collaboration on favorites such as Mandela (Bring Him Back Home), Grazin' in the Grass, Stimela, Nakupenda Africa, When You Come Back, and Say Africa. Other popular freedom songs also were thrown in the mix.

By the end of the evening, most audience members had exchanged their seated foot taps, head bobs, and near-silent humming for something more. Southern African Connection hosts who attended, like many others in the crowd, were up on their feet clapping, signing, remembering home, and “shaking a little booty” as Masekela instructed – happier than any pig in mud!    

The 20 Years of Freedom Masekela and Mahlasela concert was co-presented by GW Lisner Auditorium ( and Washington Performing Arts ( For more information on the artists and their upcoming US tour dates, visit their official websites: Hugh Masakela ( and Vusi Mahlasela (