In celebration of Mandela Day, here is an essential list of the best Madiba-inspired musical moments. Spend your 67 minutes doing something to honour the man and his life with this soundtrack of great local and international artists paying tribute to South Africa’s greatest citizen.
Nelson Mandela dances on stage in October, 1995, with supporters in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Image: Reuters)
Nelson Mandela called music the “great blessing”, and believed that it has the power to “unite us all to sing with one voice”, to give us all the opportunity to both dream and dance.
Madiba inspired a diverse collection of musicians, from ska punkers to classical composers, world-beating rock stars and jazz greats, and they all responded with some amazing tributes.
In celebration of Mandela Day, here is an essential list of the best Madiba musical moments, including some of his personal favourites, as well as songs that helped define his place in history and our hearts.
While you spend 67 minutes doing something to honour the great man and his life, take a moment to listen to the songs below and join the celebration.
Hugh Masekela – Bring Him Back Home
One of South Africa’s jazz greats, Masekela spent much of his life in exile, and that longing to return home inspired this somber but powerful lament to both the African diaspora and Mandela himself, the guiding light for those returning home to a new South Africa. Masekela had the honour of playing the song live for Madiba on his release from prison in 1990.
Simple Minds – Mandela Day
A song celebrating an imprisoned African leader by a Scottish rock band makes for an interesting dichotomy, but it is an appropriate one: Simple Minds’ singer Jim Kerr was one of the more outspoken proponents of the UK’s anti-apartheid movement. This celebratory song is, naturally, the unofficial anthem of July 18th, but a more lasting legacy was its part in bringing the story of Mandela and apartheid South Africa to a global audience during the 1980s.
Yvonne Chaka Chaka – Umqombothi
According to Chaka Chaka, this song – an upbeat sing-along about traditional African beer – was Mandela’s favourite song of all time. With its bold African groove, catchy chorus and addictive rhythm, it is the perfect fit for our famous Dancing President.
Abdullah Ibrahim – Mannenberg
The quintessential sound of South Africa, instantly recognised by all its citizens by the rolling piano theme and dynamic tempo. Named after the vibrant District Six area scarred by forced removals during apartheid, the song’s uplifting coda also acts as a perfect motif for a returning hero to free his people.
Brenda Fassie – Black President
Ma Brrr was one of Madiba’s favourite singers, and she celebrated his presidency in 1994 with this impassioned pledge of allegiance to his leadership and his dream for a free South Africa. The song inspired a generation and made her one of the country’s greatest musical icons.
Vusi Mahlasela – When You Come Back
The Voice of Mamelodi has enjoyed a long career as a musical storyteller at home and around the world. In 1992, he greeted Madiba and other returning heroes with the “ringing of bells and the beating of drums” in this joyful harmony that quickly become his signature song. The song, much like Mandela, calls for humanity to “give something to the world and not just take from it.”
The Specials AKA – Free Nelson Mandela
Without doubt the most famous song about Madiba, this rollicking ska protest song inspired the youth-led anti-apartheid movement across the world during the 1980s. Today, the song’s lyrics still have resonance, highlighting the ideals of Nelson Mandela to overcome poverty through positive action.
Johnny Clegg – Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)
The live performance of this song says it all: a powerful performer with a powerful song, joined on stage by the most powerful icon in South African history. Asimbonanga is a joyous refrain to all South Africans to be inspired by the life and work of Madiba and use it every day to continue his legacy.
U2 – Ordinary Love
World citizen Bono has always had a strong connection to Madiba and his ideals, so it was appropriate that U2 was asked to write the theme song for the “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” film in 2013. The song, released a week before Madiba died, is a touching final tribute to the great man and his life’s work.
Some other great Madiba-inspired tracks to soundtrack your 67 minutes this Mandela Day: