Celebrating Mandela in Song

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 5 2013 5:53 PM

“It Is Music and Dancing That Makes Me at Peace With the World”

In the 1980s, a number of musicians raised their voices to call for the freedom of Nelson Mandela. (The fight against apartheid, as the documentary Amandla! highlighted, was waged partly with music.) The most famous of these protest songs, in the U.S. at least, is probably 1984’s “(Free) Nelson Mandela” by the Specials, which reached No. 9 on the U.K. charts and helped to make Mandela’s cause more widely known in Great Britain and elsewhere.

Three years later, the South African musician Hugh Masekela had one of his biggest hits with “Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela),” which became an anthem among Mandela supporters—and which Mandela himself would later dance to, a free man.

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The same year that Masekela’s song came out, the South African band Savuka, fronted by Johnny Clegg, released “Asimbonanga,” which roughly translates as “We have not seen him.” Mandela would dance to that one, too—and you can watch him do so below. He joins Clegg on stage, and then, after the song ends, Mandela insists they play it again, so people can dance more than they did the first time. “It is music and dancing,” he says, “that makes me at peace with the world.”

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

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