Five must-hear songs about Mandela

By philip
5 July 2013

Few people in the history of politics, or indeed the world, have inspired as many songs as Nelson Mandela, writes Lisa van Wyk.

In the bad old days, Nelson Mandela’s name was a symbol hope and a better future. Songs about the imprisoned freedom fighter were as much about the country as a whole as they were about the man himself.

And it was not just South African artists who used his name. International artists were also eager to add their voice to the cause. Superstars who had never set foot in South Africa produced songs that become associated with the struggle, and proved the fight for freedom in this country resonated far beyond its borders.

We round up some of the more memorable tributes to Madiba and all he stands for and symbolises.

Miriam Makeba – West Wind

West wind, with your splendor
take my brothers by the hand.
Sunshine, spread your glory
unify this promised land.

Salif Keita – Mandela

South Africa’s suffering under racist rule was a concern for other African nations emerging from colonial bondage. Malian legend Salid Keita dedicated this classic to Mandela.

(Lyrics translated from French)
Let us unite, black and white
To water the tree he has planted
So that one day
We will welcome the world under his tree

Lira and Soweto Spiritual Singers – Something Inside So Strong (originally by Libbi Siffre)

Lira and the Soweto Spiritual Singers performed this song, a 1985 anti-apartheid classic, for Mandela during the 2010 World Cup. Apparently it is one of his favourites. With lyrics like these, it’s easy to see why.

The higher you build your barriers
The taller I become
The farther you take my rights away
The faster I will run

Brenda Fassie – Black President

Ma Brrr’s song about Madiba is at once a song of struggle and a song of triumph. The lyrics reference Mandela’s imprisonment, as well as his triumphant return to a rejoicing nation.

He broke ropes
But his spirit was never broken

Johnny Clegg – Asimbonanga

Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)
Asimbonang’ uMandela thina (We have not seen Mandela)
Laph’ekhona (In the place where he is)
Laph’ehleli khona (In the place where he is kept)

In 1999, Clegg performed this song in France, and its subject made a joyful appearance on stage. Don’t even try to hold back the tears.

For story with video clips go to Mail & Guardian