World Blues Tour sets toes tapping at Center for the Arts concert

Vusi Mahlesela sways Fairfax audiences along with other great blues bands in World Blues Tour (photo by Aaron Farrington).
Vusi Mahlesela sways Fairfax audiences along with other great blues bands in World Blues Tour (photo by Aaron Farrington).

The World Blues Tour stops at Mason’s CFA with world-renowned performers in a night dedicated to American and international blues music.  

On Nov. 15, the iconic Taj Mahal Trio and international artists Vusi Mahlasela of South Africa and Fredericks Brown, originally from New Zealand, performed in the World Blues Tour at the Center for the Arts.

Concert goers knew they were in for an unforgettable night when the U.S. ambassador of South Africa took the stage for an introduction of Vusi Mahlasela.  For those unfamiliar with the artist, he spoke about Mahlasela’s accomplishments, including a performance for the inauguration of Nelson Mandela, and how the message of hope and humanity has made him a South African legend.

The stage was set with three microphones, two keyboards, a drum set and numerous guitars and other string instruments. Fredericks Brown was introduced and immediately took the stage.  Two women came out, one taking place behind the keyboards on the far right and the other next to her at the microphone. 

Against a bright red backdrop, Fredericks Brown unleashed a fiery and booming R&B set.   The vocalist, Deva Mahal, began stomping her foot to a hushed auditorium.  Next came the keys and backup vocals, performed by Stephanie Brown, followed by Deva’s emotional and powerful voice, and beats by the tambourine. 

The two mostly performed their own music, but the crowd sat silently as Deva and Stephanie laid out a beautifully haunting rendition of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”  They ended their set with “Everybody Deserves to be Free,” a poignant song and a perfect segue for the next artist.

Vusi Mahlasela took the stage for the next hour, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar.  He sang his first song in an African dialect, which most in attendance could not understand.  But the beautiful picking of the guitar and vocal quality transcended language. 

He spoke of his past throughout his set. He spoke of being an activist during apartheid, his run-ins with the law, but mostly of humanity.  While his narratives were deep, he kept the overall feel of the set light, with dancing and jokes sprinkled throughout.  It was clear that Mahlasela was having fun and promoting his message of “Ubuntu” or humanity through his songs. 

The Taj Mahal Trio took the stage next to a roaring audience.  They began their set with popular songs “Fishin’ Blues,” “Corinna,” and “My Creole Belle.”  Taj switched strings many times, alternating between a brass-bodied guitar, an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, a banjo and a ukulele.

 He joked with the audience about sitting still and encouraged everyone to move around in their seats.  To help with the interaction, he played a song with audience participation called the “Ah-Ha Blues.” 

For the last couple songs he brought out special guests.  Vusi Mahlasela joined the trio for his song, “Zanzibar,” in which both artists played guitar and sang.  The result was an energetic infusion between the two, and there may not have been a still body in the house.

  Rounding out the night was the beautiful “Lovin’ in My Baby’s Eyes,” played by Taj Mahal and his daughter Deva of Fredericks Brown.  The trio left the stage to a standing ovation and concert-goers hesitant to leave the auditorium, should the artists decide to come back out. 

Alas, the lights brightened and the doors opened, and it was time to leave.  The night had come to an end, but for those in attendance, it was one that would be remembered.

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