Abdullah Ibrahim – Soweto (for Nelson Mandela)

This morning I woke up humming Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Soweto”. May-Li, who reads minds, nonchalantly put on some of his music for us to listen to while we got the day started. Then I went over to the kitchen, fixed an arepa de choclo and some coffee, and played this beautiful record over breakfast. I’ve been humming it all day.


This couldn’t be more fitting.


“Abdullah tells a remarkable story about two tunes that he performed in Cape Town in 1976. These became the anthems of children in the streets of the city. They were the tunes Mannenberg (named after a township in Cape Town that is parallel in significance to Soweto in Johannesburg) and Soweto. The saxophone solos were being sung to words all over the country, as anthems of anger and resistance to the apartheid regime. Just a few months after the recordings of these tunes were released, the Soweto uprising occurred. This was the turning point in South African history, when the South African security forces gunned down schoolchildren, who were protesting against [Afrikaans] language instruction in schools.” (Carol Ann Muller, in Kalamu ya Salaam’s great post on Mannenberg – highly recommended.)


Abdullah Ibrahim humbly tells that in the mid 70s, Nelson Mandela’s lawyer snuck in some of Ibrahim’s music into his prison in Robin Island; when he heard it, he said “Liberation is near”.

Thank you, Nelson Mandela. Rest in power.