Artists reach areas far beyond the reach of politicians. Art, especially entertainment and music, is understood by everybody, and it lifts the spirits and the morale of those who hear it. (Nelson Mandela).

What truth these words of former president of the country Dr Nelson Mandela have. Music artists who were in the fight for freedom as he was, sang political songs about him and the likes of Steven Biko and Oliver Tambo. Mandela strongly believes that these songs in many ways, contributed to his release from prison in 1990. The messages in some of these songs were so powerful, it lead the apartheid government to banning them.

In March 1985, the New York Times carried a short story about one of the biggest songs in America being banned from South African radio. The article was about Stevie Wonder who had just won an Academy Award for the best movie song. The song “I Just Called To Say I Love You” was banned in South Africa because Wonder had dedicated his Oscar to a still imprisoned Nelson Mandela. Wonder has become a regular performer to South Africa having performed for Mandela in 1998 and 2003.

In April 1990, on his first visit to Britain after 27 years in jail, Mandela’s first appearance was not at a meeting of activists or politicians, but at an epic pop show in his honour at London’s Wembley Stadium watched by a television audience of hundreds of millions around the world. Eighteen months earlier a concert was held in London in honour of Mandela. The all-star cast included Stevie Wonder, Hugh Masekela, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, and, Jerry Dammers of the Specials singing his anthem Free Nelson Mandela.

It was an extraordinary event, and echoed the role that music had played in the anti-apartheid movement. South African stars like Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela had started the campaign back in the late Fifties and Sixties, after managing to leave South Africa for the USA, where they used their fame as musicians to highlight the increasingly desperate situation for those they had left behind in South Africa’s townships.

The musical campaign against apartheid intensified throughout the Seventies and Eighties and produced a batch of great political songs. In South Africa, there was the stirring anthem Asimbonanga (and equally powerful political pop video) by Johnny Clegg. In the USA Gil Scott-Heron released his protest classic Johannesburg and Little Steven, Sun City, a call for fellow musicians not to play at the resort in one of South Africa’s so-called ‘homelands’. From Britain there was Peter Gabriel’s powerful lament Biko, and The Specials’ Free Nelson Mandela. The Caribbean contributed to Eddie Grant’s hit Gimme Hope Jo’Anna. All these songs added to the pressure for Mandela’s release.

Tuesday 21 June 2011 11:55

“A Song for Mandela” was composed for symphony orchestra, by the Frank Pietersen Music Centre in Paarl Valley

Background to South African Music

Mandela grew up listening to the tribal songs of Xhosa girls in the Transkei, and when he moved to Johannesburg he became a fan of mbaqanga township styles and the singing of Miriam Makeba.

The first internationally successful South African music was the cheerful novelty style of kwela or penny whistle jive, back in the Fifties. The instrumental Tom Hark became a bestseller in Britain and can still be heard (in very different forms) in British football grounds on a Saturday afternoon.

The country has a produced a whole range of other musical styles, from the sophisticated jazz of Hugh Masekela and the pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, through to the rousing township jazz of the Jazz Pioneers. Then the reggae of Lucky Dube, and the pop ballads and dance songs of the late Brenda Fassie, and more recently, kwaito, the home-grown South African hip-hop style developed by such artist as Bongo Maffin. The most distinctive South African music involves stirring vocal work, as in the driving and up-beat ‘groaning’ style of Simon ‘Mahlathini’ Nkabinde, who became known as ‘the King of Mbaqanga’ and ‘Mahlathini the Bull’ because of a wild stage act, in which he was often backed by the softer vocals of his famous female singers, the Mahotella Queens.

The most successful South African vocal group in the country’s history are the veteran a cappella harmony outfit Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who recorded their first album back in 1973 and were stilling packing out concert halls around the world in 2005. Led by Joseph Shabalala, the specialised in an unaccompanied style popular among Zulu migrant workers. They were beginning to lose their popularity in the early Eighties when their career was transformed by an unexpected intervention. The American folk and pop star Paul Simon was excited by their singing, and in 1986, towards the end of the apartheid era, he travelled to South Africa to record with the group and other South African musicians. The resulting album, Graceland, was a massive hit, selling over seven million copies worldwide and transforming the careers of both Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Paul Simon. In the process however, Simon angered those anti-apartheid campaigners who argued that he had broken the cultural boycott against South Africa.

Since the ending of apartheid, veteran South African stars like Hugh Masekela and Ladysmith Black Mambazo have continued to prosper in the West. There are many young musicians waiting for their breakthrough in the international market.

Eight most popular songs about Mandela:

1. ‘My black president’ by Brenda Fassie
In 1989, Fassie released a song to an imprisoned Nelson Mandela called “Black President”. The song was banned from the airwaves during apartheid, but in 1994 she was able to perform it for Mandela himself at his inauguration ceremony.

2. ‘Asimbonanga’ by Johnny Clegg
Johnny Clegg, or “the White Zulu” as he is affectionately known, had been a thorn in the side of the apartheid system. Not only did he front a multiracial band but he also sang overtly political songs. In 1987, Clegg released one of his lasting anthems to Nelson Mandela.

3. Bring back Nelson Mandela by Hugh Masekela
In 1987, Masekela released a tribute to Nelson Mandela even though the mere mention of the name ‘Mandela’ meant the song would be banned in his home country.

4. ‘Madiba Bay’ by Koos Kombuis
Afrikaans singer and writer Koos Kombuis dedicated his album called Madiba Bay. The album was released in 1997. Kombuis took issue with the political transformation that seems to have been lost since Mandela left the presidency. In 1997 he dedicated his album called “Madiba Bay”

5. ‘Nelson Mandela’ by The Specials. The song was written by group member, Jerry Danmers.

6. ‘Mandela’ by Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuza
When the ANC commissioned Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse to write an election song in 1994, he opted to re-create history. He persuaded the then ANC president Nelson Mandela to join him in the studio and read a part of the speech Mandela made from the the dock during the Rivonia Trial in 1964.

7. ‘Holihlahla Mandela’ by the cast of South African Broadway production, headed Mbongeni Ngema
This song was written by theatre ambassador Mbongeni Ngema in the late eighties and was performed abroad by his cast of Sarafina. The song relives the hardships that Nelson Mandela went through in the fight of freedom under oppression.

8. ‘Father of a nation’ composed by Cedric Samson
This is a movie soundtrack for a movie about Mandela by Samson Menell.

9. ‘A Song for Mandela’
“A Song for Mandela” was composed for symphony orchestra, by the Frank Pietersen Music Centre in Paarl Valley, Western Cape. The Music Centre was founded in 1970 by the late Frank Pietersen, who was an inspector of Music. In the darkest days of apartheid, Frank Pietersen had the vision of creating a youth orchestra drawn from the whole community. After the Centre received gold awards at the Roodepoort International Eisteddfod in 1991, and again in 1993, the Centre was incorporated into the Western Cape Education Department in 1994.

10. Homage a Nelson M. for cello and percussion, Op 27
Composer Wilhelm Kaizer Lindemann wrote this music in 1995 after reading, Long Walk to Freedom, as a tribute to Mandela. He was then invited by Mandela to his residence in Cape Town. Lindemann managed to play parts of this composition to Mandela, and a audience of five people at the presidential home.

11. Free Nelson Mandela
This song was written by Jerry Dammers. It was released on the single Nelson Mandela / Break Down The Door in 1984 as a protest against the imprisonment of Mandela.

12. 46664
Veteran rock stars Bono, Dave Stewart, and Joe Strummer wrote a song to honor Mandela. They performed it in 2003 at the 46664 concert in February.

13. Give me hope Johanna
Eddie Grant wrote this music during South Africa’s apartheid regime

14. House of Exile
This composition by the late Lucky Dube was about Mandela. Dube said that at the time of the song’s composition, he couldn’t say that was about Mandela; had to find a way to say what he wanted to say, without actually alluding to him.

15. I Cry For Freedom
This is a composition by Yvonne Chaka Chaka. Mandela wrote her letters while he was in prison, complementing her on her music. I Cry For Freedom was written in the apartheid days.

16. A summary of Mandela’s life story is featured in 2006 music video “If Everyone Cared” by Nickelback. Unconfirmed
Type: Musical and theatre tributes to Mandela
Source: Wikipedia website
Date: 2006
Continent: North America
ID: T01176

17. A tribute concert for Mandela’s 90th birthday was held in Hyde Park, London.
Type: Musical and theatre tributes to Mandela
Source: Wikipedia website
Date: 27 June 2008
Place: Hyde Park
City: London
Country: United Kingdom
Continent: Europe
ID: T00448

18. Noel Porter
Audio cassette “Azania 1990” dedicated to the President and the people of South Africa, by Noel Porter

Type: Musical and theatre tributes to Mandela
Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation Sound Collection (transferred from the ANC)
Date: 1990
Country: South Africa
Continent: Africa
ID: T00770

19. CD “A Tribute to Nelson Mandela”, Melbra Rai
Type: Musical and theatre tributes to Mandela
Source: Nelson Mandela Museum Collection (transferred from the ANC), Mthatha
ID: T00809

20. Ronnie Hughes
CD. Ronnie’s songs for the Famous and Audio Cst. Song Nelson Mandela by Ronnie Hughes.

Type: Musical and theatre tributes to Mandela
Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation Sound Collection (transferred from the ANC)
Date: 30 March 1993
ID: T00769

21. Concert at Johannesburg Stadium in honour of Mandela’s 90th birthday. Jointly organised by Nelson Mandela Foundation and Department of Arts and Culture.
Type: Musical and theatre tributes to Mandela
Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation Digital Photograph Collection
Date: 24 August 2008
City: Johannesburg
Country: South Africa
Continent: Africa
ID: T01070

22. Beyond
In Hong Kong rock band Beyond released a Cantonese song “Days of Glory” referring to Mandela’s struggle for racial equality. Unconfirmed

Type: Musical and theatre tributes to Mandela
Source: Wikipedia website
Date: 1990
Country: China
Continent: Asia
ID: T01175

23. Music group in Venezuela is called the “Danzas Mandela”. Unconfirmed
Type: Musical and theatre tributes to Mandela
Source: Unknown
Country: Venezuela
Continent: North America
ID: T00331

24. Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Tribute Concert, Wembley Stadium, London. Attended by audience of 72 000 and seen on TV by close to a billion people in over 60 countries.
Type: Musical and theatre tributes to Mandela
Source: ANC website; Knowledge Rush website; Soulful Tributes website; Wikipedia website
Date: 1988
Place: Wembley Stadium
City: London
Country: United Kingdom
Continent: Europe
ID: T00952

25. Isaac Sakie Shabangu – Author
The Black Man’s Folk Hero: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela by Isaac Sakie Shabangu. A drama

Type: Musical and theatre tributes to Mandela
Source: Office of the ANC President: Nelson Mandela Papers at Fort Hare, Alice (Box 419, Series XV – manuscripts, 13b)
Country: South Africa
Continent: Africa
ID: T01082

26. Dr P Peters
Video. Dr P Peters sings in praise of President Mandela

Type: Musical and theatre tributes to Mandela
Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation Sound Collection (transferred from the ANC)
ID: T00771

Chicago Jazz Philharmonics put on a production entitled “From Ella to Mandela” at the Auditorium Theatre, Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago.

The film Mandela and De Klerk told the story of Mandela’s release from prison

Goodbye Bafana a feature film that focuses on Mandela’s life, had its world premiere at the Berlin film festival on 11 February 2007.

Mandela’s favourite songs and artists

Nelson Mandela has in the past years, expressed his love for music. In his biography he says that his greatest pleasure, his most private moment, is watching the sun set with the music of Handel or Tchaikovsky playing. When he was in prison, it was not possible to do these, but the music concerts organised by Mandela and fellow prisoners compensated for this lack. He is said to find music very uplifting, and takes a keen interest not only in European classical music but also in African choral music and the many talents in South African music. But one voice stands out above all is that of Paul Robeson, whom he describes as our hero. Some of his other favourite artists are Handel and Tchaikovsky. His love for traditional music began when he was still a young lad in the Transkei when he used to listen to the lovely voices of young girls singing traditional songs. That is why the sounds of the legendary Miriam Makeba are among his list of favourite artists.

In February 2008 Mandela asked The Spice Girls to perform at his 90th birthday concert at London’s Hyde Park in June. Mandela first met the girls in 1997 and called them his heroes after being introduced to the at his presidential home, Mahlamba Ndlopfu in Pretoria.

The group – Victoria Beckham, Mel B, Geri Halliwell, Emma Bunton and Mel C – were asked to perform at Mandela’s 89th birthday celebrations in 2007 but had to decline because of work commitments as well as Emma being heavily pregnant. Other stars who performed at Mandela’s 90th birthday were the Rolling Stones, Annie Lennox and U2 star Bono.


The 46664 is Nelson Mandela’s campaign to help raise Global awareness of HIV/AIDS. 46664 aims to highlight the emergency of AIDS/HIV through unique live events and music related initiatives.

46664 is an African response to the global HIV AIDS epidemic that invites the whole world to take the fight in hand. The aim is to raise awareness overall and educate the younger generations in particular. By gaining global backing for the cause, funds are raised to assist the many HIV AIDS projects supported by the 46664 campaign. This is done by using 46664’s international ambassadors to spread the messages of hope, calls to action, pleas for compassion and requests for assistance and support for those living with HIV AIDS.

46664 (four, double six, six four) was Nelson Mandela’s prison number when he was imprisoned on Robben Island, off Cape Town in South Africa. He was jailed in 1964 for 27 years for leading the liberation movement against apartheid and for his impassioned stance on the rights of everyone to live in freedom. He was prisoner number 466, imprisoned in 1964. The Robben Island prisoners were never referred to by their names, but rather by their numbers and year of imprisonment – hence 46664 was Nelson Mandela’s number.

This was very much the strategy of the apartheid regime, to reduce those people fighting for the right to freedom to nameless numbers.

It was for precisely this reason that Mr. Mandela decided to use this powerful, symbolic number in the fight against HIV AIDS. Through this simple, poignant means he has demonstrated and communicated to the world that people must never be reduced to simple numbers – we are human beings, all equal, and those infected and living with HIV AIDS have the same right to live and to be treated as equals. This is how the number 46664 became the icon for promoting Nelson Mandela’s global HIV AIDS awareness campaign.

The 46664 campaign began in 2003 when Mr Mandela realised that to reach the youth of the world he needed to engage the support of the people who most appeal to them. Using the power of music, sport and celebrity to educate and empower, supported by Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen and Bono. Together they managed to persuade over thirty of the world’s top artists to come together to perform at a global awareness concert for HIV AIDS, held in Cape Town in November 2003 and broadcast worldwide via TV, radio and the internet.

Performing with them at the concert were Annie Lennox, Peter Gabriel, Youssou N’Dour, Johnny Clegg, Baba Maal, Anastacia, Beyonce, Bob Geldof, The Edge, Jimmy Cliff, The Corrs, Danny K, Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens); Paul Oakenfold, Watershed; Angelique Kidjo, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Miss Dynamite, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Zucchero, Abdel Wright and Bongo Maffin. Other concerts followed – in George, South Africa (2005), Madrid, Spain (2005) and Tromso, Norway (2005) and these will be followed by further international concerts aimed at raising awareness and funds to support the 46664 campaign and the collective projects we support.

Information on the 46664 concerts

The first 46664 concert took place in Cape Town, Green Point Stadium, (South Africa) on 29 November 2003

On 19 March 2005 the 46664 concert returned to the Western Cape town of George (South Africa). It was held at was held at Fancourt Country Club and Golfing Estate

The 46664 event was staged in Europe for the first time and took place from 29 April 2005 through to1 May 2005 in Madrid Spain. The concerts named “46664 Festival Madrid” focused on Spanish-speaking artists. They was held at Les Foietes Stadium in Benidorm

On 11 June 2005 the fourth Arctic 46664 Arctic Concert was held was held in Tromsø, Norway. The show started at 19:00 on 11 June 2005 and ended at about 01:15 the following day

The fifth 46664 was held in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium on World Aids Day, 1 December 2007

The sixth 46664 concert will be held on 27 June 2008 in London, Hyde Park