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Free Nelson Mandela
June 27, 2013 8:33 PM   Subscribe

The point being, an angry song about a political prisoner in South Africa, held captive for 21 years (at the time of writing), and written and performed by a bunch of chippy former pop stars who appeared hellbent on throwing their success back in the faces of their fans, has no business being this happy, this celebratory, and this powerful.
posted by nickyskye (47 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ah, yes. This song has been in my head for days now.

*skanks off stage*
posted by mynameisluka at 8:43 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I had not thought about that song in years. Thanks for the memories!
posted by immlass at 9:14 PM on June 27, 2013


I love this tune. I still have the 12 inch. I remember hearing it, god was it 1985? at the Amnesty International concert in Frisco, just before Peter Gabriel came on. I was in a mod ska band at the time and worshipped The Specials. This is one of those things I plan to tell my kids about, like dial phones and the Space Shuttle:

"I remember when Nelson Mandela was in prison, and the whole world was angry about it and knew it was wrong. I joined with millions of other people and wrote letters to the South African government, and told our politicians it was wrong and finally they let him out and eventually he became president of the country and freed the people and taught us all what it means to stand up for the right thing."

I know you are very sick Mr. Mandela, and I wish you a speedy recovery, but it has been an honor to be alive the same time as you and to bask in your greatness.

21 years in captivity
Are you so blind that you cannot see?
Are you so deaf that you cannot hear?

posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:20 PM on June 27, 2013 [19 favorites]


Also:
Biko. Biko - Biko, Biko!
posted by IAmBroom at 9:28 PM on June 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


by a bunch of chippy former pop stars

This strikes me as a very strange description of The Specials. If ever there was a band that seemed likely to release a song about Nelson Mandela, it was they.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:40 PM on June 27, 2013 [19 favorites]


This song has been making me cry all week.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:41 PM on June 27, 2013


Biko(song) wiki link fixed
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:43 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had a moment of panic seeing the headline on the front page today. I am really scared that the obituary FPP is imminent. I greatly prefer this one to that one.

Also, in my head, this song is actually Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela).
posted by guster4lovers at 9:44 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


One of the classes ahead of me at Bradford College picked his daughter Zenanni as speaker.
posted by brujita at 9:44 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Related nostalgia
posted by Catch at 9:51 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, this was the song that put apartheid on my radar: Artists United Against Apartheid - Sun City
posted by not_on_display at 9:54 PM on June 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


by a bunch of chippy former pop stars

This strikes me as a very strange description of The Specials. If ever there was a band that seemed likely to release a song about Nelson Mandela, it was they.


What makes it so powerful and unique (at least in the world of western pop culture), is its upbeat nature. I think of most political songs til then as being ultra-serious or angry punk rock. It's as if the song is saying "we are so right about this, we are going to sing and dance, because in the end love always wins and there is no need to engage in a discussion with you. We sing to keep our spirits up, until you see that you are wrong, and when you do see that you are wrong, you may sing and dance with us, for we are all humans and that is what is important."
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:57 PM on June 27, 2013 [27 favorites]


Thanks for this post about such a great song. Amazing how much music is associated with him - including my personal jam this week which I've been playing thinking about him and his legacy. Not looking forward to having a world without him in it.
posted by gemmy at 10:05 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


by a bunch of chippy former pop stars

This strikes me as a very strange description of The Specials. If ever there was a band that seemed likely to release a song about Nelson Mandela, it was they.


That line honestly made me doubt the authorship of the song for a moment. I know the Specials as a supremely political group.
posted by mollymayhem at 10:21 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I bought a copy of this when it first came out.

I'm still waiting for my free Nelson Mandela...
posted by tim_in_oz at 10:36 PM on June 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


At my university, they had decided and voted on an amendment that said the last song at every student union disco would be Free Nelson Mandela. The moment the song came on, everyone would go berserk because they knew it was the last song.

And then Mandela was freed. A few years after his release, and because he was now president of Siuth Africa, someone tabled a new vote in the student union. Because Mandela was free, the last song of the disco should no longer be Free Nelson Mandela, leaving open the opportunity for the students to find another protest song.

At the next disco, much to people's surprise, the music just stopped and the lights went on at curfew time. Despite the DJ's best efforts nobody knew things were about to end. They had missed their chance to go berserk or grab a drunken snog off their dancing partner under cover of dark. The same thing happened at the next disco.

So they went back to playing Free Nelson Mandela as the last song. They probably still do.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:43 PM on June 27, 2013 [14 favorites]


Late Nite Music Club with Amy Winehouse
posted by homunculus at 10:45 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think of most political songs til then as being ultra-serious or angry punk rock.

True, although it was consistent with the Reggae artists they were inspired by. I mean, the very first song on their very first album was a cover of Dandy Livingstone's "Message to You Rudy," an incredibly cheerful sounding lecture to a young street tough to get his life in order.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:54 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've never heard strop used this way. You might go off in a strop or have a strop, but you don't strop off, do you?
posted by unliteral at 11:40 PM on June 27, 2013


I started going down a rabbit hole and ended up on this. It made me sad and sick and full of wonder.
posted by legospaceman at 11:53 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was a Specials fan long before this. You've Done Too Much Much Too Young and Where Did You Get That Blank Expression yeah!
posted by telstar at 12:45 AM on June 28, 2013


Listening to the song - after digging through many youtube links - I am reminded of the middle aged men I met in Alexandra township, who, in their youth, were the spears of the anc, and their unfiltered stories of what it was like for them now. Fighting for freedom but receiving no recognition for the years of young manhood they gave to this cause.
posted by infini at 12:49 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


For me, I remember seeing a video on Video Jukebox on HBO, before MTV, a song with this title, but by Afrika Bambataa. I had no idea what a 'Nelson Mandela' was, nor what a 'free nelson mandela' was. And no one was willing to explain it.

Then I got to college and everyone told me.

But that song always comes back to me when I hear his name.
posted by mephron at 1:06 AM on June 28, 2013


tim_in_oz: "I bought a copy of this when it first came out.

I'm still waiting for my free Nelson Mandela...
"

I can see that joke and raise you one "Free Fela".

You cannot imagine how happy it makes me that when you search on the internet today for the phrase "Free Fela" the top hits are all about how to download free Fela Kuti mp3s and Fela Soul.
posted by chavenet at 1:22 AM on June 28, 2013


"In the studio" got its name from the group's expensive obsession with getting everything just the way they wanted it (to the tune of 3 years and half a million quid - and that was with a second side that span at 45rpm). It may have been painful -for the horn section in particular - but when it worked it was great. What I Like Most about is Your Girlfriend for example.
posted by rongorongo at 2:34 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


The singer on Free Nelson Mandela is Stan Campbell. Here is a bit more about his own tragic tale.
posted by vacapinta at 2:44 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


As an impressionable young ska fanatic, I was deeply affected by the song and it moulded my world outlook and personal politics. I also remember thinking that the song might finally bring the band the recognition they needed to help mount a comeback and that I might finally get to see them perform live in the U.S. (despite the fact that they had effectively dissolved after the release of their album "In The Studio").

That's an interesting link vacapinta. I expected to find a story about the band's struggle to free Mandela from prison, not that the song was an effort to make a hit record. A lot of people have made money from Mandela's struggles - everyone except Mandela himself. The world is gonna be a worser place without him.
posted by three blind mice at 2:51 AM on June 28, 2013


Another cheery wee song to keep the mood up "Nelson Mandela's Welcome to the City of Glasgow" . In 1981 Glasgow was the first city to be honoured by being able to award him the "Freedom of the City". Among other things we cheekily renamed the street that the South African Consulate was on to "Nelson Mandela Place" .
posted by stuartmm at 3:29 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the same era- with the same musicians (in this case AKA "The SWAPO singers") - and in a similar vein - The Wind of Change by Robert Wyatt.
posted by rongorongo at 3:41 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately the Specials internal conflict were never resolved. I saw them a few years ago and still no Jerry Dammers. But for a bunch of hasbeens in their 50s and 60s, they were fantastic, one of the best gigs I went to in the last decade.

And now I'm going to listen to In the Studio again.
posted by wilful at 3:57 AM on June 28, 2013


I must admit to being a huge Specials fan. I think they were one of the most innovative groups of their generation.

It all started with a friend of mine around 1980 playing International Jet Set, a really bizarre tune, and me thinking, wow I've never heard anything like this! And 30 years later, I'm still listening to them.
posted by vacapinta at 4:13 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


It would be fricking awesome if his last words are "Free Pussy Riot"
posted by Renoroc at 4:19 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not if he can't quite get all the words out. New plan.
posted by yerfatma at 5:19 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


"I'm still waiting for my free Nelson Mandela..."

Oh, you'll never get it now. I told you to send a photocopy of the receipt and not the original.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:29 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's a great song!
posted by Mister_A at 6:31 AM on June 28, 2013


This is a good earworm to have. We should continue to sing it as a celebration of life and hope for South Africa.
posted by arcticseal at 6:52 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mandela, the long goodbye
posted by infini at 7:13 AM on June 28, 2013


> I love this tune. I still have the 12 inch.

Me too, except it's the EP. I remember going to one of the seedy little record stores I hung out in in the early '80s—I think this one was in the East Village—and seeing a copy of the record in a box on the counter, and asking them to play it for me; as soon as I heard the first few bars I knew I was going to buy it, and I played it for everybody I knew. A great, great song (and yeah, a great pity the band never managed to get over their differences).
posted by languagehat at 8:06 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Once Mandela was freed, this took the place of Free Nelson Mandela in my circle of friends. Mandela by Todos Tus Muertos.

Que placer
Que placer
Ver el apartheid caer
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 9:02 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


...around 1980 playing International Jet Set, a really bizarre tune...

That's a big yes. Another version has jet-lag and some sort of fuss at the ending...

Just today, in a Starbucks cafe I heard Ghost Town on the PA. That's something, but I don't know what it means.
posted by ovvl at 4:23 PM on June 28, 2013


Pedantically, this song is by The Special A.K.A., as is the song "What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend" which could be the greatest song of all time.

You may now return to co-opting my youth. Enjoy.

;-)
posted by humboldt32 at 7:40 PM on June 28, 2013


This song almost always makes me tear up. Is there some German word for crying of joy and sadness at the same time? Because that was exactly why I cried when I heard it the first time at 14; the music was joyful, but the idea that this man was in prison simply because the SA government was full of racist, greedy, mean bastards, that was angering.

Then to see on the TV news, and the reports of the protests and resistance to apartheid, kids my own age and younger being beaten, arrested and imprisoned by adults, that broke my heart. To not even be allowed to protest their own treatment? They were supposed to just take it? RAGE.

Bless you, Mr. Mandela, and may you be free of all pain soon.
posted by droplet at 6:12 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Then to see on the TV news, and the reports of the protests and resistance to apartheid, kids my own age and younger being beaten, arrested and imprisoned by adults, that broke my heart. To not even be allowed to protest their own treatment? They were supposed to just take it? RAGE.

This is happening right now as Obama visits Soweto.
posted by infini at 6:56 AM on June 29, 2013


Ladysmith Black Mambazo: How we inspired Mandela
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:52 AM on June 29, 2013


How People Around The World Are Celebrating Nelson Mandela’s Birthday
posted by homunculus at 12:10 PM on July 18, 2013


THE SPECIAL A.K.A. 'Free Nelson Mandela' early version/studio
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:29 PM on July 18, 2013


Nelson Mandela biopic: watch Idris Elba in the first full-length film trailer
posted by homunculus at 12:28 AM on July 20, 2013


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