Nelson Mandela: Music Mourns

Musicians from all over the world pay tribute to the leader of a cause they flocked to. Bob Geldof, Jay-Z and Yusuf Islam lead the way.

Nelson Mandela: Music Mourns

THE DEATH OF NELSON Mandela has been met by a series of tributes by musicians across the world, many of whom knew and worked with South Africa’s anti-apartheid lodestone and revolutionary. Music played a crucial role in Mandela’s struggle, in the first instance helping to raise awareness of apartheid generally, and of the man who spent 27 years of his life in prison for his simple belief in equal rights for all of South Africa’s population.

His incarceration became the subject of a number high-profile records, most notably The Special AKA’s 1984 hit, Free Nelson Mandela, which became an anthem reprised on many subsequent occasions not least by Amy Winehouse and others in the joyous finale to his 90th birthday celebrations in London’s Hyde Park on June 27, 2008.


Mandela’s inauguration as South Africa’s first black president on May 10, 1994, changed the focus for the musicians who had once demanded his release. In 2003 they rallied to launch the first of a number of charity concerts under the 46664 banner (the numeral referring to Mandela’s prisoner number while incarcerated) to raise awareness of AIDS/HIV. The first of these took place at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town and featured a stellar line-up that included Beyoncé, Robert Plant, Queen, Baaba Maal, U2, Yusuf Islam, Jimmy Cliff, Youssou N’Dour and Bob Geldof among others.

Of all the tributes that flowed in the wake of Mandela’s death on December 5, the most humanizing was Geldof’s, who wrote a typically unflinching and garrulous piece about his friend in the Irish Independent. Under the headline ‘Years Of Sacrifice Never Made Stone Of His Heart’, Geldof acknowledged Mandela’s impact on the political stage, before noting, “He loved women. He was quite definitely, overtly and obviously a ladies man.”

Other musicians paying their respects included the following:

Bono (writing on “It was as if he was born to teach the age a lesson in humility, in humour and above all else in patience.

“In the end, Nelson Mandela showed us how to love rather than hate, not because he had never surrendered to rage or violence, but because he learnt that love would do a better job. Mandela played with the highest stakes. He put his family, his country, his time, his life on the line, and he won most of these contests. Stubborn ’til the end for all the right reasons, it felt like he very nearly outstared his maker.

“Today, finally, he blinked. And some of us cry, knowing our eyes were opened to so much because of him.”

Peter Gabriel (speaking in New York): “He’s the great figurehead for anyone struggling for human rights. You know, maybe Gandhi before, but to go from to a violent struggle and then reach non-violence and forgiveness and really inspire not only your own people but people all around the world, we haven’t seen anything like that.”

Jay Z (writing on his Life + Times website): “‘It always seems impossible until it is done.’ – Nelson Mandela. Thank you. Rest In PEACE.”

Yoko Ono (via Twitter): “Thank you Nelson Mandela for your highest standard of commitment to Peace in our World. We are so lucky to have been on this planet with you.”

Queen’s Brian May (writing on “Very sad to hear of Madiba's passing. We (Queen, along with Dave Stewart, and The Corrs) were privileged to spend some days and nights with him at his game park retreat, while we were organising the first 46664 concert for AIDS at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town. They were life-changing days, with quiet time and talks around a camp fire at night, which we will remember ’til we die. Mandela was the most inspiring man of his generation. His message, by example, was the power of forgiveness. He showed us that it's possible to act after great injustice with no thought of revenge. He was light, funny, enormously generous, and, quietly, the greatest example to the world that a man can be. RIP dear Madiba.”


RZA (via Twitter): “Our great champion of Freedom Justice & Equality has made his physical departure today. ‪#NelsonMandela‬‬ may your light never be extinguished.”

Paul Simon (via his website “Mandela was one of the great leaders and teachers of the twentieth century. He conceived a model for mortal enemies to overcome their hatred and find a way through compassion to rebuild a nation based on truth, justice and the power of forgiveness. His passing should reignite a worldwide effort for peace.”

LL Cool J (via Twitter): “Nelson Mandela. What a difference one person can make. ‪#RestEternally‬‬‬.”

Yusuf Islam (writing via “The world mourns the death of one of the great soldiers of Peace and Human Equality, the noble son of Africa, Nelson Mandela.

“My shadowy link with the spirit of this man goes back to when I first heard the song Shosholoza in the all-black, South African musical, King Kong. It played for about a year in the Princes Theatre [in London], across the road from my doorway, in 1961. Though I never understood the words, it was rooted in my musical influences way before even The Beatles stepped into The Cavern. The song was about progress, freedom and a train coming to South Africa. The song was sung by working miners in time with the music beat as they were swinging their axes to dig. It was usually sung under hardship in ‘call and response’ style (one man singing a solo line and the rest of the group responding by copying him). It was also sung by prisoners in call and response style. Former South African President Nelson Mandela describes how he sang Shosholoza as he worked during his imprisonment on Robben Island. He describes it as ‘a song that compares the apartheid struggle to the motion of an oncoming train’ and goes on to explain that ‘the singing made the work lighter’.

“How strange that later, without knowing the words and history of this song I wrote Peace Train, which mirrors the hope for the future of all suffering souls in every war torn land and country. Curious also is the fact that my return to music was triggered in South Africa while recording a children’s album, and following that, my return to the stage after 25 years was to honour Nelson Mandela at the 46664 concert for AIDS victims in Cape Town, 2003.

May God show mercy to this African King of Peace, who lived, worked and died for what he believed and to break the chains of slavery and Apartheid which held down his people.”

Tom Morello (via Twitter): “RIP Nelson Mandela. Hero. Freedom Fighter. An iron will and a heart of mercy. Thanks for your struggle and your example.”