Arts, Culture & Media

Mandela's life had a diverse musical soundtrack

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Credit: Andy Clark/Reuters
Nelson Mandela raises his fist as he walks on stage at Wembley Arena in London April 16, 1990. Mandela topped the bill at a rock concert in his honor. The sell-out concert was beamed live by satellite to about a dozen countries.

If you were to tell the story of Nelson Mandela, there would be a musical soundtrack.

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Music of all kinds accompanied the anti-apartheid struggle, celebrated the new South Africa and now questions its progress. And when you see photos 

Richard Nwamba hosts a weekly music program in South Africa called "The African Connection with Richard Nwamba." He's produced a special musical tribute to Nelson Mandela.
Credit: Courtesy: Richard Nwamba/SABC
Richard Nwamba hosts a weekly music program in South Africa called "The African Connection with Richard Nwamba." He's produced a special musical tribute to Nelson Mandela.
and videos of Mandela, he's often dancing amid a crowd or clapping to music.

Some of the songs were written by South Africans during the apartheid era and contained coded messages. During that time, it was illegal to even utter Mandela's name in public in South Africa, let alone play a song about him. Others were written and performed by musicians outside the country, in an effort to call attention to the icon who languished in prison.

After Mandela was released, one of his first public appearances was at a concert given in his honor in Wembley Stadium in London.

Richard Nwamba has heard all the music that makes up Mandela's soundtrack.

He hosts a weekly, two-hour music program in South Africa called "The African Connection with Richard Nwamba." He's been listening to African music and interviewing African musicians for thirty years. Now he has his own musical tribute ready to honor Nelson Mandela.

One of the songs he's playing is "Mandela" by Salif Keita of Mali. Nwamba says the song was actually a subtle way for Keita to criticize his own government.

"What does it mean when a singer from Mali writes a song about a leader in South Africa? It means he's not so happy about his own leader," Nwamba says.

Nwamba says musicians all over Africa were deeply moved when Mandela chose to serve only one term as president, even though he could have served two.

"He was ready to give it up and hand over power to someone else. That's not something you see in Zimbabwe or Angola, countries right next door to South Africa," he says.

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