The obituaries have been written, so there seems little sense for me to add much to the overflow of verbage. Suffice it to say that there is no exaggeration in the praise Nelson Mandela has received, even as even some of his admirers try to engage in a bit of iconoclasm, perhaps because the unconditional universal admiration does recall the pandering directed at frauds such as Bono.
One might criticise Nelson Mandela for certain policy decisions (though that usually is non-contexual revisionism), his private life might not have been unblemished, and there are some pretty awful people in his family, and the foundations run in his name — here I have to be careful, because they can afford very expensive lawyers — give the appearance of being bloated bureaucracies with handsome parking lots. But all that notwithstanding, Mandela was all that.
So, here is my tribute to the great man, in the form of a CD-R length mix (plus a few bonus tracks which I was sorry to leave off).
The opening track is a recording of a struggle song, named after Mandela’s real first name. Note the pronunciation.
The second track, running under the acronym SAMA (which I think stood for SA Musicians’ Association) was recorded just after Mandela’s release from jail in February 1990. It was a “We Are The World” type of record, involving some of the big stars of South African music at the time, from Mango Groove singer Claire Johnstone and Brenda Fassie to Mahlatini and the Mahotella Queens to the “People’s Poet” Mzwakhe Mbuli, all under the leadership of the great Ray Phiri. In the event, the song was never released, nor was it played nor the video broadcast on the national broadcaster, the SABC, because the ruling National Party hardly welcomed an ode to their political opponent on what they saw as their own private propaganda station (as the ANC government does now). See the video here.
The stand-out track is, of course, Johnny Clegg & Savuka’s “Asimbonanga” (which is Zulu for “we have not seen him”). It imagines Mandela looking out from the island into the bay. The island would be Robben Island, where Mandela and other political prisoners were incarcerated for decades; the bay would be the one across which one usually sees the panoramic shots of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. By the time “Asimbonanga” came out in 1987, Mandela had been moved to Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town (another place with a nice view, were it not for the walls and bars). Importantly, Clegg mentions a number of martyrs of the struggle against apartheid: it mustn’t be forgotten that the liberation from apartheid and the peaceful transition to democracy was not a solo effort. The peaceful transition always was the goal, Mandela or not.
The version of Hugh Masekela’s exuberant “Bring Him Back Home” comes from the Paul Simon-led “Graceland” concert in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1987. Masekela’s wish to see Mandela walking hand-in-hand with Winnie through the streets of Soweto did come true. Soon the marriage to Winnie was history and Nelson moved to the leafy Johannesburg suburb of Sandton (he also had a home in the Transkei village of Qunu).
The oldest song here, “West Wind” by Miriam Makeba, doesn’t mention Mandela, yet it is widely regarded as a Mandela song. The lyrics, “West wind, with your splendor, take my brothers by the hand. Sunshine, spread your glory, unify this promised land”, express the objective of Mandela’s leadership. The SABC was in no doubt about the meaning: it banned the song, as it did most of the songs here, even Brenda Fassie’s “Black President”, which was released in 1991.
Half the songs here are by South Africans, the other half express Mandela’s international appeal in songs from Britain (The Special A.K.A.), Burundi (the wonderful Khadja Nin), Senegal (Youssou N’Dour), USA (Tracy Chapman, Nona Nendryx), Mali (Salif Keita), Cameroon (Petit Pays), Burkina Faso (Farafina), and Jamaica (Shabba Ranks).
The mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-struggled covers. PW in comments.
1. Mayibuye – Rolihlahla (1980s)
2. S.A.M.A. – The People Want Mandela (1990)
3. Hugh Masekela – Bring Him Back Home (1987)
4. Special A.K.A. – Free Nelson Mandela (1984)
5. Brenda Fassie – Black President (1991)
6. Johnny Clegg and Savuka – Asimbonanga (1987)
7. Tracy Chapman – Freedom Now (1989)
8. Khadja Nin – Mzee Mandela (1998)
9. Miriam Makeba – West Wind (1966)
10. Abdullah Ibrahim – Mandela (1985)
11. Youssou N’Dour – Nelson Mandela (1985)
12. Nona Hendryx – Winds Of Change (Mandela To Mandela) (1987)
13. Salif Keita – Mandela (1995)
14. Petit Pays – Mandela Axania (1998)
15. Allou April – Madiba’s Jive (2002)
16. Vusi Mahlasela – When You Come Back (1992)
17. Farafina – Mandela (1989)
18. Shabba Ranks – Mandela Free (1990)
19. Nelson Mandela – Day of Release From Prison, Cape Town, 15 February 1990
Maze feat. Frankie Beverley – Mandela (1989)
Yammie Bolo – Free Mandela (1986)