Nelson Mandela inspired countless musical tributes. This playlist includes tracks by some of Mandela’s favourite artists; songs composed with Mandela in mind as a freedom fighter and as a President; struggle songs; and a few that for us, capture the global fight against injustice. The range of artists represented — from Abdullah Ibrahim to Peter Tosh to Miriam Makeba to Tchaikovsky – is a testament to Mandela’s importance as a radical politician and to the solidarity the struggle inspired in people across the world.
1. Miriam Makeba – “Khawuleza”
When Miriam Makeba died in 2008 Nelson Mandela paid the singer and activist a poignant tribute calling her “the mother of our struggle” and “South Africa’s First Lady of song.” Performing here in Sweden in 1966, Makeba’s “Khawuleza” title translates as “come quickly” — a reminder of the call children made to their mothers as police arrived to terrorize the townships.
2. The Specials – “Free Nelson Mandela”
In March 1984, Mandela wrote on his desk calendar in which he kept notes from inside his Robben Island cell: ”Madiba records sell well. Record calling for the release of NM has made big impression on pop charts after only one week. ‘Free NM’ by the Specials – a multi-racial group – is no.4 on Capitol Radio charts & no. 65 on the national charts”. Madiba was right, the song written by Jeffrey Dammers, who became aware of Mandela during a 1983 anti-apartheid concert, continued to do well on charts internationally.
3. J.P. Mohapeloa
When Zeni Mandela wrote lyrics from an Elvis song on the back of a letter she sent her father in prison, he replied with a list of musicians he thought she should be listening to. Among them was Lesotho-born folk composer J.P. Mohapeloa.
4. Paul Robeson “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”
Mandela also recommended that his daughter listen to African American renaissance man — actor, musician, Civil Rights activist — Paul Robeson. Old time spiritual “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” is a reminder of the inequity of power which defined Struggle.