Playlist: South African Jazz for Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the man that so many South Africans have come to love, even those who grew up being taught that he was a communist and a terrorist when communism was portrayed as a great evil. He achieved so much in his life, but what he achieved was for the people of South Africa–not for himself. Nelson Mandela, in his biography A Long Walk To Freedom says “It is music and dancing that make me at peace with the world.” Many jazz artists have paid tribute to Nelson Mandela over the years, and I felt it fitting to dedicate one of my radio shows to this music as a tribute.

My JazzE radio show only plays jazz from South African artists and so I compiled a playlist of songs that can be related to Nelson Mandela for a special tribute edition. Here is that playlist, and some background on each of the songs selected. Where available I’m providing a link. Full show is embedded at the end.

Moses Khumalo – Meadowlands. Meadowlands, a song written by Strike Vilakazi to protest the forced removal of residents of Sophiatown in 1955. Sophiatown was seen by the apartheid government as a threat, and it was in Freedom Square, Sophiatown that Mandela first alluded to armed resistance as a legitimate tool for change. The area where the black residents were removed to was Meadowlands, Soweto.

Bheki Mseleku – Home At Last. Bheki Mseleku lived in exile in London for many years. This song was composed on his return to South Africa. Although not specifically directed or in honour of Nelson Mandela, I included this tune not only to remind us of Mandela’s return home after 27 years in prison, but also of his return to his eternal home on Thursday 5 December 2013.

Eghard Volschenk – Kwela For Mandela. Namibian born jazz guitarist Eghard Volschenk wrote this song for Mandela, he said many years ago. This kwela song has a sound that has strong Cape jazz influences. Listen to it here.

Allou April – Madiba’s Jive. Sticking to sounds that are typically South African, this time from Allou April with an upbeat jive number, one that we can certainly imagine Mandela doing his ‘Madiba Jive’ to:

Linda Kekana – A Song For Madiba. A beautiful song composed by Linda and Ephraim Kekana, and recorded by acclaimed jazz vocalist and South African Music Award winner Linda Kekana, this is a touching tribute.

Zim Ngqawana – Long Waltz To Freedom. Zim Ngqawana has two entries in this playlist, the first is this, Long Waltz To Freedom, an obvious reference to Mandela’s biography ‘Long Walk To Freedom’. Zim Ngqawana was musical director for Nelson Mandela’s Inauguration on 10 May 1994, he passed away on the anniversary of this day in 2011. Listen to it here.

Ological Studies – At Peace. This song was selected, both for Mandela’s contribution to peace, but also the fact that he is now at peace. Ological Studies will be performing on the line up at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival 2014. This is a band that has performed alongside the legendary Zim Ngqawana mentioned above.

Winston Mankunku Ngozi – Give Peace A Chance. This composition off his 2003 album Abantwana Be Afrika was chosen as a song that aligned itself well with Mandela’s ideals. The song was released 9 years into our new democracy and well into Thabo Mbeki’s first term as president.

Abdullah Ibrahim – Mandela. Abdullah Ibrahim had two recordings smuggled onto Robben Island, “Peace: Salam” and “Mannenberg”. Mandela described “Peace: Salam” as a song that could be used amongst prisoners as a “cohesive force to create stability.” This recording of “Mandela” is one of many, this one by Abdullah Ibrahim and a big band, off the album Bombella:

Kevin Clark – Sikelele uMandela. Kevin Clark is from New Zealand, so an exception on this list. The album has strong South African influences and was released in both New Zealand and South Africa. This song “Sikelele uMandela” (Bless Mandela) is a fitting tribute.

Ismael GTX Xaba – Dr Nelson Mandela Iqhawa. Another direct tribute to Nelson Mandela, this time by Ismael GTX Xaba, the internationally renowned pianist who learned to play by sneaking in through a church window to practice on the piano inside.

The next three songs were chosen because of Madiba’s love of children.

Voice – Children In The Rain. Voice is a quintet formed by some contemporary greats. Marcus Wyatt, Andile Yenana, Herbie Tsoaeli, Sydney Ace Mnisi and Lulu Gontsana.

Mankunku – Abantwana Be Afrika. “Children of Afrika,” again chosen for the significance of Children in Mandela’s life. During the struggle he was unable to be a father to his own children, but he has shown his love for children throughout his life.

Harry Miller’s Isipingo – Children At Play. Harry Miller, another South African artist who lived and died in exile. This song is the third and final song chosen to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s love for children.

Zim Ngqawana – Anthem. This final song on the show playlist is based on Enoch Sontonga’s Nkosi Sikelele iAfrika (God Bless Africa) the anthem of the African National Congress, the party to which Nelson Mandela belonged. It also forms a major part of the national anthem of the Republic of South Africa since it achieved true democracy in 1994. Please see entry on ‘Long Waltz To Freedom’ for some background on Zim Ngqawana:

Two tunes that were left off the radio show playlist due to them being rather predictable choices are:

Hugh Masekela – Mandela (Bring Him Back Home). Watch this tribute video of a song which became a struggle anthem here:

…and Jonathan Butler – Mandela Bay. This is another popular tribute to Nelson Mandela by Jonathan Butler:

(Look at some of the other YouTube suggestions, there are may great live performances available to watch.)

The radio show which prompted this post is available on mixcloud (in two parts) if you wish to listen to all of the tracks listed above:

JazzE – The Nelson Mandela Tribute Episode – Part 1 by Jazze on Mixcloud

JazzE – The Nelson Mandela Tribute Episode – Part 2 by Jazze on Mixcloud

Further Reading