Image for Remembering Nelson Mandela: 7 Musical Tributes

Remembering Nelson Mandela: 7 Musical Tributes

Written by Nastassia Baroni on December 6, 2013

The world collectively mourned today as news flooded in of the passing of Nelson Mandela, legendary anti-apartheid leader and universal activist for peace. Mandela died on Thursday, 5th December in his Johannesburg home at the age of 95 after a series of lung infections.

Mandela spent his life battling racial injustice in South Africa, fighting to dismantle the oppressive legacy of institutionalised racism and inequality created by the apartheid. After serving 27 years in prison for fighting against the pro-apartheid National Party, Mandela went on to help establish the nation’s first-ever fully representative, multiracial election and was elected as President of South Africa from 1994-1999.

The inspirational legacy left by this Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader will endure not just within the folds of history books, but also forever in the hearts of people around the world inspired by Mandela’s fight for peace and freedom, and through the music those hearts and minds create.

In honour of that legacy, we’ve compiled some of our memorable moments in music inspired by Nelson Mandela.


U2 – Ordinary Love

Long-term friend of Mandela, Bono, wrote this song with U2 for the biopic, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, soon to be released in Australia. The lyrics speak to what Mandela strived for.


The Special AKA – Free Nelson Mandela

The Special AKA, better known as The Specials, recorded this anthemic and surprisingly celebratory protest song early in their career. It became an international cry-call during Mandela’s incarceration.


Artists United Against Apartheid – Sun City

For this 1985 single, E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt assembled an all-star group of performers including Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Pat Benatar, Herbie Hancock, Ringo Starr, Lou Reed, Run–D.M.C., Peter Gabriel, Bob Geldof, U2, Keith Richards and more to declare their boycott against playing at South African gambling resort Sun City.


Bono, Joe Strummer and Dave Stewart – Number 46664

46664 (four, double six, six, four) was Nelson Mandela’s prison number while he was incarcerated at Robbin Island. Joe Strummer and Bono co-wrote this song for Mandela as part of the campaign against AIDS in Africa.


Public Enemy – Prophets of Rage

Well known for voicing political messages, Public Enemy reference Mandela in Prophets of Rage: “We have a reason why / To debate the hate / That’s why we’re born to die / Mandela, cell dweller.”


Tracy Chapman – Freedom Now

Chapman wrote this song dedicated to Mandela for his 70th birthday celebrations.


Johnny Clegg (With Nelson Mandela) – Asimbonanga

South African native Jonny Clegg caused controversy with this protest song, written in both English and Zulu and performed during Apartheid by bandmates of different races. Here Mandela joins the band on stage in 1999.

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