How Nelson Mandela Inspired South Africa's Music

Arun Rath speaks with pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim about the passing of Nelson Mandela and his influence on the South African music scene.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ARUN RATH, HOST:

For me, when I think of South Africa, the first name that comes to mind after Nelson Mandela is Abdullah Ibrahim. The brilliant composer and pianist was born in South Africa in 1934. It's never been easy to make a living as a jazz musician and exponentially harder as a black South African in the '50s and '60s. By the mid-'60s, Ibrahim was living in exile in Europe. He remained in exile for much of the next 30 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: But Abdullah Ibrahim stayed connected to his country and the struggle for freedom. His song "Mannenberg" became an unofficial anthem for the movement.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MANNENBERG")

RATH: Mannenberg was a black township in South Africa created by the government's policy of forced removals. The very name as a song title was an intense political statement. Ibrahim heard directly from Nelson Mandela's African National Congress of the importance of music, and his music in particular, to the fight for liberation.

ABDULLAH IBRAHIM: When he first heard the song, he said it was a sign that liberation was near.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MANNENBERG")

RATH: Ibrahim returned from exile to play at Nelson Mandela's inauguration.

IBRAHIM: It was fantastic because for the first time now in many, many years that we met musicians, some of our friends, some of our colleagues that we haven't seen for decades. So it was that kind of reunion.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MANNENBERG")

RATH: Did he ever talk to you about your music?

IBRAHIM: He came backstage and said, Bach and Beethoven, we've got better.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MANNENBERG")

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: Perhaps the most striking quality of Ibrahim's music is that while you can hear the struggle, the dominant emotion is one of exuberance, love of life, even joy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: Abdullah Ibrahim spoke with us by phone. He turns 80 next year.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: