There are rare times when the entire world becomes magnetized to an event; especially an event which causes us to reflect on our shared humanity. It is so with the passing of Nelson Mandela.
Here is a story about a song…
Everywhere you went, you could feel it. The atmosphere of an entire country was electrified! This was December 1988. So much in the world was just about to change. In the following year, the world would witness the destruction of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the birth of the World Wide Web and the first tides of globalization.
South Africa itself felt like it was about to explode!
This was an unanticipated honeymoon for us, visiting family in Johannesburg, traveling throughout the Transvaal, going to the Indian Ocean… I was beyond myself with excitement. It was a month-long crash course in everything South African for me – history, literature, ethnography, politics, zoology, botany, geography and most importantly, the most amazing music!
Our journey was highlighted by one serendipitous meeting after another. We kept finding ourselves in the company of ambassadors for this amazing country – friends, family and total strangers…It was a month-long passionate conversation… A genuine love affair!
Always, always just underneath the surface, was the feeling that Apartheid South Africa was on the brink of revolution! It felt inevitable. The underlying fear amongst so many, was that the change would be violent.
Something had to break. There were the songs like “Free Nelson Mandela” by The Specials and “Asimbonanga” by Johnny Clegg and Savuka along with all the tribal singing that welled up in people like an irrepressible tide of Hope.
There was the unifying cry for the release of Nelson Mandela, who now personified the spirit of a nation oppressed by a brutal and absurdly anachronous regime. You’d see it in the bizarre juxtaposition of sterilized, conservative state sponsored television and the seething, volatile undercurrents of revolution in the songs and music played in defiance everywhere the police were not looking!
But there was something more to it. The eyes of the world were on South Africa. It was more than the overthrow of a police state. It was the greater cry for freedom felt by all! It would soon be embodied by the spirit of humanity and forgiveness demonstrated in the lives of Nelson Mandela, F.W. de Klerk and Desmond Tutu, who fostered a peaceful transition in a nation composed of seemingly irreconcilable, violent historical forces.
This is the light of South Africa! It is to be found so powerfully in song, in story, in dance! Above all, it is the ‘long walk to freedom’ as expressed by the story of Nelson Mandela. It is the woven spiritual fabric of a people united not by genetic, not by political ideology, not by religion or race…but by a great something else!
So there I was, the last day of our South African Odyssey 25 years ago, desperate to give form to what I felt pulsing through me. I had to do something! I could not leave without giving these powerful feelings a home. So I picked up the guitar and out it came…complete…as if it had already been written.
We wish to share the song now as a tribute to our beloved Madiba and his resolute faith and belief in the spirit of humanity!