Fela Kuti once said: “Music is the weapon of the future“. Indeed, music can be very powerful and it can serve as a peaceful channel for voicing out wishes and interests. When South African musician Hugh Ramapolo Masekela had to leave his country because of the rising state oppression by the apartheid regime in 1960, he continued the anti-apartheid struggle from abroad. When he died in January 2018, the world lost one of its best Jazz artists.
It was in 1987 that Masekela wrote the track ‘Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela)‘, directly demanding Nelson Mandela‘s release from imprisonment. It was officially banned by the South African government upon its release. But this couldn’t stop it from becoming an anthem for the anti-apartheid movement. In retrospective, Masekela’s hit illustrates that songs alone cannot offer political solutions but they can inspire movements, influence public debates and pressure political office holders. Even in the darkest hours, music has the capacity to create hope.
“Bring back Nelson Mandela,
Bring him back home to Soweto
I want to see him walking down the streets of South Africa
In an article released on his homepage, Masekela told that he wrote the song just after receiving a letter from Mandela, smuggled out from Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town: “My birthday was coming up on the fourth of April. I was totally overwhelmed by this letter from a man who had been in prison for 21 years wishing me, a free person, prosperity. I sat there dumbfounded for quite a while before thanking Bra Mathizo, who made a quick exit on realizing the surging emotion swelling inside my restless soul. With tears in my eyes, I rushed to the piano across our tiny sitting-room lounge and began to sing in a very loud outburst
“Bring back Nelson Mandela! Bring him back home to Soweto! I want to see him walking down the streets of South Africa. I want to see him walking hand-in-hand with Winnie Mandela.”
Jabu came in running from the backyard with a big smile on her face. “Hughie, when did you write that song? I’ve never heard it before”, “I didn’t write it, Nelson Mandela just sent it.” (Hugh Masekela.co.za)
The following video shows Masekela performing the song during a live concert in Zimbabwe in 1987.