Songs for Mandela: Weekend Music Break 64


This post combines Steffan’s wonderful playlist of South African tunes of and for Nelson Mandela and the international playlist we published when we first heard news of the great man’s death. 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. 

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.*


This is the South African edition of our selection of Songs for Nelson Mandela. Last night we posted the international edition and many of our readers asked if we’d forgotten about the many South African musicians who’d written music about him. We didn’t. Here is a selection of South African music about Madiba or in tribute to him. It’s a bumper playlist, and in no particular order. Of course, we couldn’t include everything from the vast and varied music inspired by Mandela and the liberation struggle. Enjoy and feel free to post your own favourites in the comments.

The selection consists of a mixture of songs suggested by my fellow AIAC contributors and songs of my own choosing.

Spokes Mashiyane – Kalla’s Special

Let’s start things off with a 1955 song from king kwela himself, Johannes ‘Spokes’ Mashiyane. The talented Mashiyane was not only a master of the pennywhistle, but a great saxophone player to boot.

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Miriam Makeba – Piece of Ground

A list like this would be incomplete without at least one song from the lovely Miriam Makeba. Here’s a version of the song written by Jeremy Taylor off her 1967 album, Pata Pata.

Abudullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) – Mannenberg

And now for one of the greatest and most important South African jazz tunes ever released. First released in 1974, Mannenberg is not only a great song, but a major anthem of the struggle against apartheid. Featuring Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen on sax, Monty Weber on drums, and Paul Micheals on bass.

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The Genuines – Die Struggle

Some South African rock/punk from 1986 for a change of pace.

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And if you liked that, be sure to check their updated version of the Goema standard, “Die Maan Skyn So Helder” (The Moon Shines So Brightly).

Bright Blue – Weeping

We’ve featured the video before. How it made it past censors when it was released in 1987, I’ll never know. The apartheid protest anthem is allegorical, making reference to former-president PW Botha and his harsh policies. Hidden not-so-subtly in the song is a refrain from ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’ (then the ANC’s anthem, now the South African national anthem) just before a solo from saxophonist Basil Coetzee. In the same moments of the song, the video gives a nod to the cover of Abdullah Ibrahim’s famous album, Mannenberg – ‘Is Where It’s Happening,’ through the imagery of a group of boys standing against a wall behind an elderly woman in the Cape Flats.

Brenda Fassie – Black President

Here’s a song from the undisputed bad girl of South African pop music, Brenda Fassie, whose turbulent life and attitude was and still is a topic that everyone loves to talk about and on which everyone seems to have an opinion.

Boom Shaka – It’s About Time

The first single from the first major kwaito group, released in 1993.

Prophets of Da City – Never Again

An anthem from the pioneers of South African hip hop, POC.

By the way, AIAC’s very own Dylan Valley actually co-produced a documentary on the group called Lost Prophets.

Soul Brothers – Take Me Home Taximan

Some great mbaqanga from the legendary Soul Brothers

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DJ Sbu ft Zahara – Lengoma

And here’s a (relatively recent) example of some of the great house music coming out of South Africa, today.

For the record, that’s Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse riding shotgun with Sbu. Starting off as a member of the Afro-rock band, The Beaters (later renamed and more famously know as Harari), his song, “Burnout,” is one of the most famous bubblegum tracks of all time.

Hugh Masekela — Bring Back Nelson Mandela

The last word goes to Hugh Masekela. “Bring him back home to Soweto.”

Here are a few more songs that I decided not to include in the main list, but are still worth a listen:

Monty Weber and Friends – District Six

Johnny Clegg – Asimbonanga (Live + Mandela himself makes an appearance)

Arthur Mafokate – Kaffir

Yvonne Chaka-Chaka – Let Me Be Free

Miriam Makeba & Hugh Masekela – Soweto Blues (Live)

Tumi – Power

Letta Mbulu – Amakhamandela-Not Yet Uhuru

Moses ‘Taiwa’ Mololekwa – Dance Africa (Live)

Zim Ngqawana – Ebhofolo (This Madness)

Lucky Dube – House of Exile

Vusi Mahlasela – River Jordan

Jonas Gwangwa and African Explosion – Switch No 1

Given Nelson Mandela’s place within South African history and our imaginations, as well as the inevitable media frenzy around his hospitalization and passing, I find the words of the late Phaswame Mpe to be particularly prescient. Hence, by way of conclusion, I offer the following passage for your consideration:

Life was going on, as it would continue to go on, long after you had bid this world farewell. Soon, you would arrive in Heaven, where you would meet…the others. You would chat with them about the continuation of life. You would share with each other your understanding of what the reality of Heaven is; that what makes it accessible, is that it exists in the imagination of those who commemorate our worldly life. Who, through the stories that they tell of us, continue to celebrate or condemn our existence even after we have passed on from this Earth.

Heaven is the world of our continuing existence, located in the memory and consciousness of those who live with us and after us. It is the archive that those we left behind keep visiting and revisiting; digging this out, suppressing or burying that. Continually reconfiguring the stories of our lives, as if they alone hold the real and true version…Heaven can also be Hell, depending on the nature of our continuing existence in the memories and consciousness of the living. – Phaswame Mpe, Welcome To Our Hillbrow

Hamba kahle, Madiba.

Further Reading