Songs for Mandela [International Edition]

When we sent around the AIAC “office” inviting our contributors to suggest songs for Nelson Mandela (both music about him and tracks that could stand as tributes to the man), the suggestions came flooding in. This is the international edition of our Songs for Mandela. It’s a bumper playlist, and in no particular order. Enjoy and feel free to post your own favourites in the comments. Steffan will take us through a blockbuster selection of the many tracks for Mandela by South African artists tomorrow.

We’ll start with Miles Davis, “Amandla”, from his 1989 album of the same name (the whole thing’s here).

Next up it’s Burning Spear, and “Mandela Marcus”.

Jamaican dancehall giant Shabba Ranks, “Mandela Free” (and here’s some footage of when Shabba came to give Madiba a hand on the campaign trail):

Gil Scott-Heron. “Johannesburg”. Enjoy.

From Haiti, this is Dieudonné Larose with a live version of the hit song, “Mandela”:

Here’s Senegalese rapper Didier Awadi with a cracker from his album “Presidents d’Afrique” — “Amandla (Mandela)”. Awadi did a great job splicing in lines from Mandela’s inauguration speech. All rise.

From his 1995 album, “Folon”, this is the great Salif Keita, “Mandela”. On the same album, he sung the praises of Sékou Touré. Keita’s international career took off following his appearance alongside the likes of Youssou N’dour, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela at the massive concert that was held at Wembley for Mandela’s 70th birthday (some clips here — for some reason only of British and American performers).

This is the title track from Youssou N’Dour’s 1986 album, “Nelson Mandela”:

Probably the most famous song campaigning for Mandela’s release, and one of the best-known anti-apartheid tracks around the world, was by a group from … Coventry, England. The Specials got a big hit with “Free Nelson Mandela”.

Let’s hear that again, this time with the much-missed Amy Winehouse on lead vocals. Her rendition closed the concert celebrating Mandela’s 90th birthday in Hyde Park.

Ivorian reggae artist Alpha Blondy tells it like it is. “Apartheid is Nazism”.

We couldn’t not have something from Linton Kwesi Johnson. First up, here’s “Mi Revalueshanary Fren”…

…and secondly “Wat About Di Workin Class”?

Here’s Zambian rapper Zubz with “My Distress”:

“Mandela, cell dweller, Thatcher / You can tell her clear the way for the prophets of rage / (Power of the people you say).” Yes, it’s Public Enemy with “Prophets of Rage”.

From Reggie Rockstone, it’s “Keep Your Eyes on the Road”

Who knew Arsenio Hall could sound so earnest? It’s because he’s introducing Maze and Frankie Beverley with “Mandela”.

The Klezmatics and Chava Alberstein with “Di Goldene Pave” (The Golden Peacock):

We’ll leave the last word to Bob. Rest in peace, Madiba.

*With thanks to Johan Palme, Jimmy Kainja, Gregory Mann,  Amílcar Tavares, Serginho Roosblad, Melissa Levin, Siddhartha Mitter, Marissa Moorman, Ngoan’a Nts’oana, Jesse Shipley, Cheta Nwanze, William Glasspiegel, Jonathan Faull, Nick Barber, Zachary Rosen, Jacques Enaudeau, Dylan Valley, Tom Devriendt, Steffan Horowitz and Sean Jacobs for their suggestions on these playlists.*



Elliot Ross

Elliot Ross is senior editor at Africa is a Country. He tweets at @africasacountry and @futbolsacountry

  1. what about the one’s south africans like? i didn’t see a single south african song – to add to your list – Brenda Fassie’s my black president, Bring back Nelson Mandela from the movie Sarafina and add some toyi-toyi

  2. South African edition? You are doing another post? Yay, look forward to that, I’m loving this collection. I guess you will include Hugh Masekela in that post then.

    I did a blog post of Nelson Mandela songs a few months ago & I found this old B&W version of Youssou N’Dour’s song which I really liked.

  3. Really wonderful collection, but I’m not so sure how I feel about the inclusion of Zionist musicians like Chava Albertstain, as they’ve explicitly leant their support to a settler-colonial power structure not unlike South African apartheid in Historic Palestine.

    “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians” -Madiba

    1. Hi Andrew — I wasn’t aware that Chava Alberstein had expressed support for Israel’s policy of apartheid. Can you provide links?

      1. Actually looking deeper into it since I posted that, it seems she has had somewhat mixed and changing views on all of it throughout her life that would seem to place her generally somewhere in the sphere of Liberal Zionism, and her being championed by various right-wing Israeli institutions as a great Zionist may in fact be co-optation to some degree. That said, I think her long and diverse career has been marked by political choices that I think are worthy of questioning.

        As the first musician signed to the Israeli branch of Columbia Records (there called CBS records), her early performances were done in the typical “shirei Eretz Yisrael” style, promoting attachment to the particular piece of land that was Historic Palestine and defense of the land against its Arab population. Her recording of “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” was notable for being one of the first songs of its style to be written from a national rather than traditional religious perspective (source: To me, this is a sign of some level of complicity in using musical performance to reify a conception of Zionism as a political project within Palestine. She continued to perform songs in this style for IDF soldiers in the mid-60’s (an act which, today, would seem to be more politicized than it was then given that there is a stronger push internationally for artists not to do that kind of thing), but as soon as she started writing her own songs when she was 40 years old she seemed to take a turn that was more critical of Israeli policies.

        Her most known protest song was a variation of a traditional passover song “Had Gadia” that was banned from Israeli state radio because it was critical of the state’s policies towards Palestinians during the First Intifada. As a result of this, a number of right-wing Zionist groups mounted a boycott against her in protest of her invitation to light the flame at the 1990 Israeli Independence Day celebration. I can’t find any verification via google as to whether she actually accepted that invitation, but certainly I feel like celebrating the expulsion of 750,000+ Palestinians to make way for the formation of a nation-state that systemically privileges one group over another is not exactly the kind of Independence Day I would want to commemorate. But yeah, I can’t find a concrete citation on whether or not she actually did that.

        She has more recently said a number of things in interviews that I find less than inspiring, for instance a generally dismissive attitude towards the efforts made by the BDS movement to convince international artists not to perform in Israel. Here is one example:

        “I don’t think this mixture of art and politics is right because most [Israeli] artists speak for peace and are ready to criticise the government when it’s wrong, and yet suddenly we’re not accepted. I don’t understand it. But that is the world. There are also artists who are not ready to come to Israel because of politics. What can you do?”

        I think art and politics are, for better or worse, inextricably linked. Where art is performed and who it generates profits for are inherently political things. She is showing some degree of at least implicit support for the institutions that have promoted racist policies when she performs at various venues throughout Israel that whitewash apartheid, accepts honorary degrees from the University of Tel Aviv (an institution built partially over the village of Sheikh Muwanis where a number of apartheid policies were constructed), and continues to generate profits for Israeli record companies. She is pretty embedded within the Israeli culture industry and that has made her susceptible to some degree to becoming an unintentional poster woman for Zionist tolerance and liberalism. She hasn’t really challenged this or ever fundamentally challenged the legitimacy of political Zionism itself, and her dismissive remarks towards the non-violent methods of resistance used by Palestinian civil society to address the injustices of the occupation (BDS) gives me the impression that she is only willing to go so far with understanding her privileges as a settler. Then again, that’s not necessarily something she has to do to be a legitimately “conscious” artist, but I just find that in this current time it may not be the best move.

        I am not saying any of this as a hardliner or purist in any sense. I think all people who venture into both music and politics must be conscious of all of the complications of doing a thing like that, and often even when they’re trying their hardest manage to fall short on some level. But I think ultimately Albertstein’s politics are closer to someone like de Klerk than Mandela. She is in theory supportive of Palestinians but her attachments to the state itself (which was built fundamentally on exclusion from its inception) make it so she must be pressured on some level to act in a way that is truly in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

        Just my thoughts as a non-Jewish, non-Palestinian random white dude. =)

  4. Great selection here. Listening all the way. I was expecting to see Majek Fashek’s Free Mandela though. Thanks!

  5. Thank you for the list of songs. They are very good.

    Today we cry for this unbearable loss.

    I cry, we cry, we ask for forgiveness, we have to rethink our ways of living.

    Let us try harder to love, love. All we need is love.

    My deepest condolences to the family, and the people of South Africa.

    We lost a hero.

    Be like him.

    Do like him.

    Rest in peace Madiba.

  6. Some wonderful songs came out of Trinidad & Tobago during the apartheid years, e.g, “Shaka Shaka” by Bally and “Isolate South Africa” by Bally

Mailing List

Sign up for email updates!


Not the continent with 54 countries

©Africa is a Country, 2016