Nelson Mandela


Over the years there have been several birthday concerts. The Free Nelson Mandela song written by Jerry Dammers has featured in every one. The first Nelson Mandela birthday concert was held in 1998, and the most recent was in 2009. All have been memorable in their own way.

Perhaps the greatest Nelson Mandela tribute has been the announcement by the United Nations General Assembly making July 18 ‘Mandela Day’. No doubt there will be many more Mandela birthday tributes to come.

In 1988 as Nelson Mandela turned 70 he was still a prisoner in South Africa. The concert was staged at Wembley Stadium in London ( the Nelson Mandela 90th birthday concert was held in Hyde Park). While this first concert was for Nelson Mandela he insisted that it focused on all South African political prisoners not just himself. The main aim of the 1988 was to raise political awareness of the situation in South Africa. It called for the freedom of prisoners and for sanctions to be brought against South Africa to bring apartheid to an end. It was also Mandela’s wish that the concert had not an angry, but a positive tone, so the first Nelson Mandela party was broadcast to 67 countries. It was to be another 2 years before Mandela was released from prison, but many believe the concert helped to speed up the process of the changes that were needed in South Africa.

20 years on, as Nelson Mandela turned 90, he was able to enjoy his own birthday celebration. For many singing stars and people in attendance to be able to see and hear Nelson Mandela live was considered a huge privilege. The man who had fought so long for freedom and gone on to become President of South Africa had this to say: “Even as we celebrate, let us remind ourselves that our work is far from complete – our work is for freedom for all.”

The concert featured a huge line up of stars and was not only a Mandela birthday celebration, but also a fundraiser for Mandela’s HIV/AIDS foundation 46664. The foundation takes its name from Nelson Mandela’s prison number and has held Nelson Mandela concerts since 2003.

Queen, Paul Rodgers, Leona Lewis and Amy Winehouse were among the line up of stars at the Nelson Mandela 2008 concert. The Sugababes, Simple Minds, and Annie Lennox were also there and the Nelson Mandela concert was kicked off by superstar Will Smith. A number of South African performers were also a hit, including the Soweto choir, Loyiso Bala, and popular Afrikaans singer Kurt Darren.

The Mandela birthday celebration held in New York 2009 also boasted a huge line up of stars, both recent and from the past. One popular billing was a performance by Carla Bruni-Sarkozy (wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy) She sang ‘Blowin in the Wind’ The Nelson Mandela song was of course a favourite as always.

Nelson Mandela was not able to attend his 2009 Mandela Day Concert in New York, but did send a video message. Typically of this great, but humble man his message was one for the people: “Our struggle for freedom and justice was a collective effort. Mandela Day is no different,” he said. “It is our hope that people will dedicate their time and effort to improve the conditions within their own community.” Of Mandela Day he says “Not a holiday,” but “a day dedicated to service”

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