Happy Mandela Day! I feel it to be a great privilege that we were all alive in the era of Nelson Mandela. I want to highlight the reasons why social change music is so important with reference to the Anti-Apartheid movement, the few songs that were released around that time and the impact they had on the movement and change around the world.
Mandela recognized quite early on in his life how important and how impactful music is in bringing about positive change in our world.
“Artists reach areas far beyond the reach of politics. Art, especially entertainment and music, is understood by everybody, and it lifts the spirits and the morale of those who hear it”
– Nelson Mandela
As musicians we are often told how important it is to stand for something and ‘find a cause to fight for’, ‘set up a foundation’ etc but I guess some of us need to know what our songwriting, skills and talents can actually do – how it can affect change. Sometimes it may not be tangible but the positivity a lot of the time is certainly felt when a good song, with the right message, sung and told the right way is released to impact change.
Here are 4 songs and 4 reasons they had to exist in bringing a stop to apartheid. Hopefully this will spur us all to write more songs that will change our world.
1). “Homeless” – Paul Simon (1986)
Although this is not a song about Mandela, Paul Simon took it upon himself to celebrate and shining a light on South African musicians that have since become well known because of his ‘Graceland’ album. Ladysmith Black Mambas, Youssou N’Dour to name a few are of such artists. He used his globally-reaching platform to create awareness for the cause around the world.
2). “Sun City” – Artists United Against Apartheid (1985)
This song raised over $1m in donations for anti-apartheid efforts. It was banned in South Africa and for this reason got more airplay around the world.
3). “Free Nelson Mandela“ – The Special AKA (1984)
This was a Top 10 hit by a Top 10 band in the UK. CNN reported here that this song alerted many around the world to the injustices of the South African regime.
4). Biko – Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel was spurred to write this song after hearing about Steve Biko (an anti-apartheid) activist’s death. This song inspired an outpouring of support from around the world. The song ignited awareness, challenged people’s beliefs and, ultimately, changed lives. Watch Peter Gabriel sing this song live here and watch when Desmond Tutu breaks down after hearing it here.