The world mourned the loss of a great freedom fighter yesterday when Nelson Mandela died at the age of 95. The iconic anti-apartheid leader passed away at his Johannesburg, South Africa home in the company of his family. The revolutionary was disgracefully vilified as a “terrorist” by the U.S. government's 'watch list' under President Ronald Reagan. The distinction wasn't lifted until 2008. Mandela, who spent 27 years of his life imprisoned in South Africa for his political beliefs, would go on to eventually become president after his dramatic release in 1990 as South Africa transitioned away from white minority rule. “Death is something inevitable,” Mandela famously said. “When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace.”
Like any freedom movement, music played a central role against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Miriam Makeba were hailed by Mandela for their contributions. The Weekly celebrates the life of the late Nelson Mandela with five songs in memory of the man and his mission.*
5. Brenda Fassie – “Black President”
Brenda Fassie was hailed as the 'African Queen of Pop' in her time. She voiced her opposition to apartheid and in 1990 released Black President whose title track celebrated Nelson Mandela's freedom from political imprisonment. Upon her untimely death, Fassie was visited at the hospital by Mandela and his ex-wife.
Key lyrics: Now in 1990 / The people's president / Came out from jail / Raised up his hand and said / “Viva, viva, my people”
4. Peter Tosh – “Apartheid”
The legendary Peter Tosh was, of course, a Jamaican reggae singer who started with the Wailers before launching a solo career. It was during that time that he used his music and status as a musician to oppose apartheid in South Africa. The most explicit example is the song “Apartheid” which was originally recorded in 1977 before being re-recorded ten years later.
Key lyrics: You in a me land / Quite illegal / You're in a me land / Dig out me gold / In a me land / Digging out me pearls / In a me land/ Dig out me diamonds
3. Youssou N'dour – “Nelson Mandela”
Youssou N'Dour, the acclaimed Senegalese singer, currently serves as the nation's Minister of Tourism and Culture. But before that, in 1986, he released the album simply titled Nelson Mandela. A year prior to the U.S. debut, he helped organize a concert calling for immediate freedom for the incarcerated political figure. The album and title track that followed came in the same emancipatory spirit.
2. Eddy Grant – “Gimme Hope Jo'anna”
The Guyanese singer Eddy Grant's song “Gimme Hope Jo'anna” was so bothersome to apartheid that the South African regime banned it. Lyrically, “Jo'anna” represented the oppressive government. Like anything censored, it only grew in prominence becoming a huge anti-apartheid anthem. Grant emerged from years out of the media spotlight to star at a 90th birthday celebration concert for Nelson Mandela in London, England.
Key lyrics: She's got a system they call apartheid / It keeps a brother in a subjection / But maybe pressure can make Jo'anna see / How everybody could a live as one
1. Lucky Dube – Prisoner
The late South African reggae singer sang of Mandela with his song “House of Exile.” In interviews, Lucky Dube mentioned that at the time of its recording it couldn't explicitly be about the political figure. Aside from that track, “Prisoner” is another famed song beloved by the continent of Africa. Its sentiment echoes the experience of Mandela just the same.
Key lyrics: I looked all around me / But to see nothing / But four gray walls staring at me
*Special thanks to Bremner Roberts for help with this list