Nelson Mandela (1918 - 2013)
A great man died yesterday, after a long and eventful life. There will be tributes aplenty to Nelson Mandela over the next few days and weeks, all of them well-deserved; the man was a significant figure in world history, and the memory of him will live on after most of us are long forgotten. His is a sad, but not unexpected, loss. However, rather than mourn for what we have lost with his passing, we should celebrate his accomplishments and be glad for the fact that we had him here on Earth with us for so long, and at such a crucial point in his country's and the world's history.
And in my opinion, the best way to celebrate Mandela's life is with that most celebratory of songs about him, the classic protest anthem "Free Nelson Mandela" by The Special A.K.A.
This is arguably the most effective protest song of all time, bringing the plight of Mandela's long suffering and imprisonment at the hands of the racist South African government to more widespread and worldwide attention. It even made it into the British Top Ten in the spring of 1984, and thrust songwriter and Specials co-founder Jerry Dammers into the forefront of the international anti-apartheid struggle. It is not an exaggeration to say that the release and popularity of this song was one of, if not THE, most significant events that led to Mandela's freedom six years later.
"Free Nelson Mandela" was the highlight of a tumultuous two-year recording session by the remaining Specials (crippled by the 1981 departure of Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple to form The Fun Boy Three), renamed The Special A.K.A. for legal reasons and augmented by replacement musicians of varying quality (including volatile new lead vocalist Stan Campbell, who was reputedly a major head case even back then - eventually in 2002, he was indefinitely committed to a psychiatric hospital following attacks on two Coventry schoolgirls). On the whole, the lone album this band produced, In The Studio, was a disappointment - but it did include this one great song, so there you go.
The story behind the recording of this album and song has already been superbly covered by my friend and fellow blogger Marco On The Bass, so I won't belabor it here; here's the link to his article. The album link on his site has long been down - so here's one that works:
In honor and in celebration of the life of the great statesman and peacemaker Nelson Mandela, I proudly offer to you In The Studio, recorded by The Special A.K.A. and released by 2 Tone Records on June 23rd, 1984. Enjoy, remember, and as always, let me know what you think.
Rest long and well, Mr. Mandela. And thank you.