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Nelson Mandela Musical Tribute

December 5th, 2013 · 21 Comments · Music, Politics



With the passing of The Giant I thought of all great music he inspired …
and interestingly enough I’d reviewed a lot of it over the years so thought I’d put some of the best together here …

This is my single favorite clip of all the live music performances I’ve ever seen on film … by anybody, ever … you just have to experience it …

And then that captured moment was so priceless and impactful that the performer, Johnny Clegg, used it in his 2013 concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London.  And as The Great Spirit provides, one audience member up front was capturing it on his camera and shared it with the the world …

And here’s the same song, “Asimbonanga,”  sung by the Soweto Gospel Choir a few days after Madiba died . . . as a flash mob in a store!!

And then here he is two days later doing it solo with a choir at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory …

Or here’s an interesting version with Peter Gabriel on most of the lead vocals … and that builds to a rather choirific climax …


Then there was The Specials’ “Free Nelson Mandela” — the very first song in Western culture that brought attention to Mandela’s plight in early 1984.

Here’s the earliest live version of the song captured on film, on the offbeat Channel 4 show Tube, just before the song’s writer Jimmy Dammers would leave the band.  And don’t miss the surprise appearance by Elvis Costello.  😉


To these ears, the most powerfully rockin of all the Mandela songs is “(I Ain’t Gonna Play) Sun City,” written by Little Steven and recorded by his all-star assemblage Artists United Against Apartheid in 1985, following in the draft “We Are The World” earlier that year.

Here he is whipping the best live version ever captured on film — in the small-venue Ritz in NYC with brother Bruce showing up to join Little Steven’s Disciples of Soul … and whoever the hell that teeth-rattling bass player is — I want him in my band!


Here’s the long-form video of “Sun City” that Little Steven’s collective of masters made.  Some of the legends I noticed — Miles, Herbie, Dylan, Ringo, Springsteen, Bono, Lou Reed, Joey Ramone, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Peter Wolf, Jimmy Cliff, The Temptations, Clarence Clemons, George Clinton, Afrika Bambaataa, Run-DMC, Darlene Love, Nona Hendrix, Ruben Blades, Peter Garrett from Midnight Oil … and … my old front yard, Washington Square Park, was the setting of the climactic choir scenes!  😉


And in 1988 when Jimmy Dammers, the guy from The Specials who wrote “Free Nelson Mandela,” organized the massive all-star “Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute” at Wembley Stadium, he was able to summon the likes of Little Steven, Peter Gabriel, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, The Eurythmics, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Joe Cocker, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Simple Minds, UB40, Youssou N’Dour, Jackson Browne, Chrissie Hynde, Tracy Chapman, Paul Carrack and loads of others.

Here’s the first five minutes of the all-star “Sun City” from this gig — including Little Steven’s rippin rap about “the terrorist government of South Africa” before being backed by Simple Minds with Peter Gabriel, Youssou N’Dour, Jackson Browne and others …


Or here’s where Gabriel and Youssou N’Dour join Simple Minds for an hypnotic “Biko” — a song about another political anti-apartheid activist in South Africa — but who was killed by the police in 1977 …


Or here’s Aswad leading Sly & Robbie, Gabriel, Youssou and a ton of others in a joyous “Set Them Free” …


Or here’s Simple Minds — who were the basically the house band at the Wembley 70th Birthday Tribute — doing their “Mandela Day” …


And, okay, this has nothing to do with Mandela, but The Eurythmics do a “There Must Be An Angel” with the most soaring melodic harp solo I’ve ever heard delivered in a stadium … you just gotta experience this … it’s the climactic two minutes of the song …
and not fer nuthin but … the best female vocalist on the stage is not Annie Lennox.
Check it.


= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

You can read a whole bunch of other beautiful political jams in my 2020 book Blissfully Ravaged in Democracy — Adventures in Politics — 1980–2020.

For more Adventures in music you can check out the (Route) 66 Best live performances ever captured on film.

Or for the similar time we lost a global giant — John Lennon

Or the time I met and hung with Madiba’s #1 music man Johnny Clegg.

Or Paul Simon playing Graceland in Hyde Park in London. 

Or the night Dylan showed up at Springsteen’s show at Shea Stadium in New York.

Or the New Orleans Jazz Fest ride.

Or how The Grateful Dead came to play my 30th birthday.

Or when Dr. John came to Toronto and I hung with the band afterwards.

Or when Neil Young returned to Massey Hall in Toronto.

Or Furthur came back and reprised the Dead at Madison Square Garden.

Or when the Dead, Janis, The Band and others took the Festival Express train trip across Canada.

Or here’s the day I finally “got” Bob Dylan

Or for all the music stories in general go here.




Brian Hassett

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21 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ken Morris // Dec 5, 2013 at 8:29 PM

    Thanks much, Brian. Very good stuff!

  • 2 Jeanne Masanz // Dec 5, 2013 at 9:14 PM

    Thanks for sharing this, Brian. Always getting to the heart of the matter, you are so good at that.

  • 3 Alicia Cabrera-Thomas // Dec 5, 2013 at 11:07 PM

    what a wonderful example of life, courage, change & compassion to one & all……would that we could all
    live our lives as he did
    forgiving & carrying on w/dignity

    Little Steven was too shy to ask Miles to join in
    So someone else did ………..
    Miles mentions this in his autobiography

  • 4 John Cassady // Dec 6, 2013 at 2:11 AM

    Fantastic! I could listen to this stuff all day!
    Thanks, Mr. Deejay.

  • 5 Thomas Kauertz // Dec 6, 2013 at 7:23 AM

    Man, what a line up on that Sun City video!!

  • 6 Brian Humniski // Dec 6, 2013 at 8:32 AM

    Thanks Brian. I bought the Sun City cassette when it came out but never saw the video. Truly inspiring.

  • 7 Levi Asher // Dec 6, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    Some great finds here, Brian …

  • 8 Sarah Cattell // Dec 6, 2013 at 5:43 PM

    That clip where Mandela comes out !!!! WOW!!!!
    WHO is Johnny Clegg???
    I have to go look for more by him. Thanks for this!!!

  • 9 Rick Medland // Dec 6, 2013 at 8:25 PM

    That Sun City album has still not been released on CD in all these years either…

  • 10 Ben Nathan // Dec 7, 2013 at 12:20 PM

    What a great tribute. Thanks for doing this. It’s times like this we need music.

  • 11 Barry Floch // Dec 7, 2013 at 5:25 PM

    What a tribute you’ve put together here ……
    I dare anyone to not be moved and move their feet when hearing Free Nelson Mandela …. ah The Specials! <3

  • 12 Mary Jo // Dec 7, 2013 at 5:41 PM

    And here it is again – the reason I love you so much, Brian. What a beautiful write up. What a tragic day – but what a day to experience.
    You never cease to amaze me. What a great collection of music and thoughts left behind by one of the world’s greatest forces for change. Love ya.

  • 13 Suzanne Chistiansen // Dec 7, 2013 at 9:43 PM

    This made me dance …. and cry. Thank you SOOOO much!!!

  • 14 Chris Welch // Dec 7, 2013 at 11:43 PM

    Who else does this???!!! You rock!!! “I ain’t gonna play Sun City …”

  • 15 Michael Hollander // Dec 8, 2013 at 9:03 PM

    Bless you, my brother, for you have rocked.
    And man yer right about that bass player in Little Steven’s band. If you get his phone number pass it on. 😉

  • 16 Linda Ranson // Dec 8, 2013 at 9:37 PM

    Brian — you’re The Best!!!!
    Thank you so much for doing this!!

  • 17 Barnaby Marshall // Dec 8, 2013 at 10:13 PM

    Love The Specials song!
    Thanks for doing this.

  • 18 Jim Robinson // Dec 9, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    You said the two magic words — “Johnny Clegg”
    Thanks for turning me onto him.

  • 19 Betsy Lafleur Allers // Dec 9, 2013 at 6:19 PM

    What a beautiful Tribute to such an amazing man. Nelson Mandela could have let anger, vengeance, hatred, etc., overtaken his life. But he chose forgiveness, love, and reconciliation. I love watching him dance here. I always loved that he was smiling and his eyes were twinkling! We know that you are now dancing in Heaven, oh “Good and Faithful Servant”. God Bless You, Nelson Mandela. I hope you know that you were/are loved by all Races/Nationalities…

  • 20 Rob Salmon // Dec 10, 2013 at 4:23 PM

    I had no idea there were this many songs to him. What a collection. Love that Johnny Clegg guy … and seeing Little Steven rippin it at The Ritz back in the day.

  • 21 Megan Reese // Dec 12, 2013 at 12:45 PM

    Thanks for the musical memories and moments!
    Magic, man. 😉

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