Music for Mandela



Nelson Mandela
  • Nelson Mandela

Last week the CBS network's This Morning program came under fire for playing a snippet of American rock band Toto's MOR staple "Africa" over footage of the Mandela memorial in South Africa. While the incident was hardly a crisis in the greater scope of international affairs, it does point to a broader issue of cultural insensitivity that is far too pervasive in the United States.

The producers of CBS This Morning wouldn't have needed to dig too deeply to locate an authentic South African tune. South Africa has one of the richest musical heritages of any nation on Earth, and the country's performing artists have left enormous marks on the American music scene. In the 1960s South African artists like Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela had huge pop hits in the States, while the 80s saw Paul Simon propel Zulu choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo to international stardom.

Music played an important role in the campaign to free Nelson Mandela, as well as the greater struggle to end apartheid. That influence was so significant that jazz maestro Hugh Masekela once remarked that South Africa was "the only country that had music as an international catalyst to help bring down an unjust government." The following list represents some of my favorite songs associated with Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement. In response to CBS This Morning's lazy and careless production choice, I decided to focus strictly on music made by South African artists.

Abdullah Ibrahim "Mannenberg" There's a spectacular legend concerning Nelson Mandela associated with this classic by South African jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, formerly known as Dollar Brand. As the story goes a lawyer smuggled the album into Robben Island Prison where Mandela was held, locked the doors of the control room and played it over the loud speakers. It was the first time Mandela and his fellow inmates had heard any music in decades. "Liberation is near," Mandela reportedly said when he heard Ibrahim's melodies over the loudspeaker. Sadly it was not, Mandela was only halfway through the 27 years he would spend as a political prisoner. "We realized what had happened is that we had captured the spirit and the mood of the nation at that time, and it was confirmation and affirmation of our cultural and political inheritance," Ibrahim later said of the recording.

Miriam Makeba "Beware, Verwoerd! (Ndodemnyama)" One of many stirring protest anthems recorded by Makeba. "Beware Verwoerd, here are the black people" the song warns. The lyrics were written by anti-apartheid activist Vuyisile Min in protest of Hendrik Verwoerd, Prime Minister of South Africa from 1958-1966 who is remembered as the "architect of apartheid." Mandela has recalled singing this anthem alongside Mini while the pair were imprisoned in a Johannesberg jail. Mini was sentenced to death for political crimes in 1964. Makeba also paid a high price for her work as an activist, the singer was exiled from South Africa in 1960 and not permitted to return home until the 90s.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo "Nomathemba" Although the famed Zulu choir never recorded political music their uplifting sound provided hope and inspiration for many during the apartheid era. Mandela declared the choir "South Africa's cultural ambassadors" and invited them to perform at both his Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony and presidential inauguration. "Nomathemba" comes from the group's 1973 debut recording. "I wrote it in 1965 and it was the first song I ever composed after it came to me in a dream," choir leader Joseph Shabalala says of "Nomathemba" which fittingly translates as hope.

Hugh Masekela "Soweto Blues" Recorded in 1977 Masekela's "Soweto Blues" detail the everyday suffering and indignities black South Africans faced during the apartheid era - or "just a little atrocity deep in the city" as the song's refrain states.

Vusi Mahlasela "When You Come Back" Dubbed "the voice of South Africa," Vusi was a major artistic voice in the ati-apartheid movement. His 1992 release "When You Come Back" celebrated the return of exiles and political prisoners in post-apartheid South Africa.

Brenda Fassie "Black President" Written in 1990 around the time of Mandela's release from prison, "Black President" was immediately banned by the South African government. But that didn't stop the song from becoming an anthem, or stop Fassie from skyrocketing to fame. The singer would go on to release the best selling album in South African history, prompting Time magazine to name Fassie the "Madonna of the Townships." Also look for Fassie's 2001 live performance of her hit "Vuli Ndlela," as the singer unsuccessfully attempts to coax an amused Mandela to join her in dance onstage.

Zahara "Loliwe" In 2011 singer-songwriter Zahara became an overnight sensation with the success of her debut "Loliwe" - a simply stated metaphor of reunification and redemption. Don't miss the touching Youtube video of Zahara giving a bedside performance of the song for an ailing Mandela. Also check out Zahara's tribute to Mandela recorded with poet Mzwakhe Mbuli.

Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection features classics from South Africa.

1. Letta Mbulu - Mahlalela
2. Hugh Masekela - Stimela
3. Abdullah Ibrahim - Liberation Dance
4. Simphiwe Dana - Zundiqondisise
5. Harmonius Serenade Choir - Lyo
6. Thandiswa - Lahl' Umlenze
7. Miriam Makeba - Beware, Verwoerd!
8. Dorothy Masuka - Ngi Hamba Ngedwa
9. Malombo - Sangoma
10. Mahlathini - Abake Ba Bonana
11. Mahotella Queens - Mozani Mahipi
12. Letta Mbulu - Pula Yetla
13. Vusi Mahlasela - E Sale Noka
14. Brenda Fassie - Vulindela
15. Mafikizolo - Munt Omnyama
16. DJ Sbu feat. Zahara - Lengoma
17. Mafikizolo - Khona
18. Uhuru - Pata Pata
19. Spoek Mathambo - Mshini Wam
20. Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Nomathemba


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