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Nelson Mandela Tributes: Top 10 Mandela Day Music Moments

For our Mandela Day birthday celebration, we've compiled for you the top 10 Nelson Mandela tributes in music.


“It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world, and at peace with myself.”

-Nelson Mandela

Mandela’s birthday celebrations, or Mandela Day, have a tradition of commemoration through sound. Mandela said, while joining Johnny Clegg on stage in 1999, “It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world, and at peace with myself.” Many artists around the world have dedicated themselves to producing Nelson Mandela tributes. For his 95th birthday today, we decided to continue the ritual of sonic solidarity and celebration by digging up our favorite Mandela musical memories.

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1. Every birthday has the birthday song. Stevie Wonder performed two of our favorite Nelson Mandela tributes, the first at his 80th Mandela Day bash.

The second was in 2009 at a Radio City Music Hall concert. Wonder's tribute to Mandela dates as far back as 1985 when he dedicated his Oscar for best movie song (for “I Just Called To Say I Love You”) to Mandela, who was still in prison. The South African Broadcasting Corporation promptly banned the song from radio and television on account of its artist's remarks.

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2. Mama Africa Miriam Makeba does her own Mandela tribute during his 70th birthday celebration with a beautiful rendition of the Hugh Masakela-written "Soweto Blues."

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3. Johnny Clegg, joined by Mandela, performing his "Asimbonanga" tribute.

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4.Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson released From South Africa to South Carolina (1976) as a sign of solidarity in protest against apartheid. This video features a live 1976 performance from Johannesburg.

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5. Everyone will remember The Specials song that had everyone around the world chanting “Free Nelson Mandela.” This is a festive song for Mandela Day.

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6. Among South African Queen of Afropop Brenda Fassie's apartheid-era protest songs is this tribute to Mandela, "My Black President" (1989). In 2001, she performed her song "Vuli Ndela" while Mandela was in the audience.

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7. Soweto-born Sipho Mabuza recorded this tribute to Mandela featuring samples of Mandela's voice, recorded in the studio reciting parts from the 1964 Rivonia Trial.

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8. While Mandela was in jail, his lawyer reportedly snuck in Abdullah Ibrahim's "Mannenberg" tribute. Ibrahim describes the song's meaning here.

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9. During Mandela’s 90th birthday celebration Cedric Samson performs his Grammy award-winning tribute to Mandela, "Father of a Nation."

Samson performed again at Mandela's 93rd birthday celebration with the Cape Town Philharmonic.

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10. The Chicago Jazz Philharmonics put on a production entitled From Ella to Mandela featuring a jazz suite composed by Orbert Davis. "Hope In Action" is captured on video by o1 Projects.

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