Mandela concert rocks London

30 June 2008

Top international and South African artists played to a crowd of nearly 50 000 people at a sold-out 46664 concert in Hyde Park, London on Friday night as Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations started in earnest.

With 46664 tickets up for grabs, American hip-hop legend Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith hosted arguably the biggest birthday celebration ever.

Among the artists who appeared on stage was Amy Winehouse, and South Africa’s Johnny Clegg, who “rocked the place”, according to fans. Other South African artists at the event included the Soweto Gospel Choir and Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse.

Adding some African flavour were Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo, Papa Wemba from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudanese rapper Emmanuel Jal, and Kenyan diva Suzanna Owiyo.

Other performers included Annie Lennox, the Sugababes, Jamelia – who performed a duet with South Africa’s Loyiso – Josh Groban and Queen.

A host of celebrities, including Formula One racing driver Lewis Hamilton, also appeared on the stage throughout the evening. In a pre-recorded message, rock star Bono sang Happy Birthday while U2’s The Edge played guitar.

Mandela addressed the crowd with a short speech, starting with a thank you to the British people for the Free Nelson Mandela Concert at Wembley in 1988.

“Friends, 20 years ago London hosted a historic concert which called for our freedom,” Mandela said. “Your voices carried across the water to inspire us in our prison cells far away. Tonight, we are free. We are honoured to be back in London.

“As we celebrate, let us remind ourselves that our work is far from complete,” Mandela said. “Where there is poverty and sickness, including Aids, where human beings are being oppressed, there is more work to be done. Our work is for freedom for all …

“We say tonight, after nearly 90 years of life, it is time for new hands to lift the burdens. It is in your hands now. I thank you.”

Mandela, whose actual birthday falls on 18 July, arrived in London earlier this month to take part in a series of events to mark the day.

Andrea Eaton, a South African living in London, described the concert as “one of the best nights I’ve ever had”, and said she was moved to tears by Mandela’s address to the crowd. “When Mandela came out … oh my word … the whole crowd was in tears. He’s an exceptional speaker.”

46664 is a global Aids awareness initiative that bears Mandela’s one-time prison number.

With every artist highlighting Mandela’s statement that Aids “is not a disease, it’s a human rights issue”, Eaton said the concert had certainly made her more aware of the epidemic.

“I’ve thought about it, obviously, but now I really understand just how important the fight against HIV/Aids really is.”

SAinfo reporter and the Nelson Mandela Foundation

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