Like a lot of people my first introduction to the Nelson Mandela story was through the Specials AKA track Nelson Mandela in 1984. I didn’t even buy it by choice; it was track number three on the B-side of the first cassette of ‘Now that’s what I call music 3’, it was preceded by Two Tribes by Frankie and White lines by Grand Master Flash. It was the first of the NTWICM albums I had ever owned and that B-side was my favourite. I played it to death that summer in a caravan somewhere in Yorkshire. I loved the joyful celebratory sound of the track although I had no idea of the inspiration for its creation, it sounded happy and lively.
It wasn’t until Paul Simon dipped his toe into South Africa a few years later that I actually began to learn about the political history of the country.
Sixteen years after first hearing his name I find myself turning down the chance of a tourist boat trip to Robben Island – the place of Mandela’s incarceration and the spot where the Special AKA where advocating his freedom from. I decided against the trip because it felt quite ghoulish, quite macabre, the fact that the cell that had hosted the most hated man in South Africa for nearly three decades was now being touted to the tourists only a few years after he had left it felt somehow wrong, too voyersitic.
I wish I had gone now.
In a world where the music industry is dominated by power and influence rather than musical ability, let’s not forget how wonderful it was that Rage against the Machine “Killing in the name” made it to number one seventeen years after it had first been released, having previously only reached number twenty-five. The strength of the line “Fuck you I won’t do what you told me” all the more poignant that second time around as a middle finger against the wave of crap music being forced upon us, but also slightly ironic in the fact that almost half a million people did exactly what they were to do and downloaded it all the way to Christmas number one 2009.
If the internet holds any power in this world, and if the Christmas musical selection this year is of a standard of the last (insert any number here) years, then let’s do it, let’s put Nelson at number this Christmas.
Will it make any difference in the world? – probably not.
But wouldn’t it be great!