Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Back in 1984 I was in Bielefeld Germany visiting a girl I'd met in the states. Our plan was to hitchhike to Berlin the night after I arrived, but first she had to attend a few college classes, so since I had nothing else to do I went along to check out her school. While she was in class, I killed time by browsing tables set up by different organizations and one was displaying booklets and badges from the African National Congress, whom I'd never heard of. I started talking to the people running the table and it was the first time I'd ever heard the term apartheid, and the first time I'd heard the name Nelson Mandela (still imprisoned at the time). Needless to say, I probably came off as the classic ignorant American. But the people at the table were patient, filling me in on all the shit that I'd never even heard about in the states.

By the time I got to London a few weeks later, after I'd read the ANC material that I'd picked up, the Special AKA's "Free Nelson Mandela" was climbing up the British charts (eventually making it to #9). When I spotted the 45, it was a no brainer, all the while thinking "Where the hell have I been?" Back at home a month or so later, the song started getting airplay on a local radio station. Dang me if it didn't do the job. The whole point of any protest song is to bring about awareness, and possibly change. To that end, many of the kids in the U.S. were now learning about apartheid for the first time through a song. It was hard to find anybody, in my particular circle, that didn't know about apartheid or Nelson Mandela. Multiply that by every country that had the record in shops and you've got a whole lot of kids going, "Hey, what's this? This is just plain wrong!" That is about the best that you could hope for a protest song.

In 1990, apartheid was abolished, and Mandela was released from prison. He went on to be elected president of South Africa, inaugurated on May 10, 1994, almost ten years to the day after I'd first heard his name. All of that was a trip to follow, a big change in ten years, and a great, great, protest song. Here's a few versions.

The Special AKA - Free Nelson Mandela mp3 at ATumblr (?) 1984
The Special AKA - Free Nelson Mandela (Instrumental) mp3
at AM Then FM 1984
The Special AKA - Free Nelson Mandela (The Whole World Is Watching Dance Mix)
(streaming) at YouTube 1988 WTF?
The Special AKA - Free Nelson Mandela (Official)
at YouTube
The Special AKA - Free Nelson Mandela (Early version, first performance)
at YouTube
The Special AKA - Racist Friend
at YouTube On topic and also good.
The Special Aka: In the Studio review at The Guardian "weird, vivid nightmares on Jerry Dammers’ utterly compelling final album" Retrospective review of LP that contained the song.

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