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.


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.


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."


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.



6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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