Songs for Nelson Mandela

Brenda Fassie’s “Black President” is still the standard-bearer for Mandela tribute songs. Fassie did this one while Mandela was still in prison in the late 1980s. She also claimed they were related. But that’s another story.

There’s a few others that come close.

Santana (featuring Wayne Shorter), “Mandela” (live version). Check the poster of Mandela in front of the keyboard. Based on Mandela’s profile before he went to prison, they were ubiqituous throughout the 1980s when Mandela truly emerged as a global figure:

Vusi Mahlasela, “When You Come Back Home,” which Mahlasela released two years after Mandela was released:

Johnny Clegg’s “Asimbonanga”: This was a standard for Clegg during 1980s with his band Savuka. In this live version performed in 1999, Mandela joins Clegg on stage and then gives a speech and ask the crowd to join him.

Not everyone will agree whether this is Clegg’s best performance of the song. This version may sound better.

Then there’s Special AKA’s “Free Nelson Mandela” from the early 1980s. Some good British ska.  [If you can’t see it, click here.]

Finally, Hugh Masekela brings showbiz to the struggle with “Bring Back Nelson Mandela.” He’ll give anything some swing.




Sean Jacobs

Also goes by Hasan Wazan. Life President.

  1. strange, to me, even above the din and barrage of news reports from Victor Vester and beyond, yours is hands down the most fitting tribute to February 11 i've seen all day! for some reason, I seem to remember a lot of Madiba mostly in song. But you commit one grave omission: how could you possibly sleep on San Fan Thomas!
    Thanks again

  2. Let's add a few more to the list…

    The Senegalese were in the mix: Youssou N'dour's 1985 album Nelson Mandela is pure mbalax with a conscience (before Parisian fame got to him).

    Ndeye Mbaye also recorded a Nelson Mandela song (and apparently Youssou was part of the production.

    If we head to Burundi, there's Mzee Mandela by Khadja Nin that I recently came across.

    The Americans weren't too successful musically in this vein, I suppose Maze's Mandela from 1989's Silky Soul is the most credible.

  3. Akenji: I have featured Sam Fan Thomas on this blog before. I did not know about his Mandela tune (I grew up on South African state radio with its limited continental playlists (more like schizophrenia).

    Koranteng: I thought about Youssouh. Salif Keita also had a song. Sadly, my list was very parochial.

Mailing List

Sign up for email updates!


Not the continent with 54 countries

©Africa is a Country, 2016