The Song that Helped Change the World

A fascinating tale. My own awareness of the evils of apartheid began in 1980 with Peter Gabriel's "Biko", but "Nelson Mandela" was transformative for a whole generation of young British people who found a political voice during the mid-eighties.

If any protest song can be said to have had a tangible effect on its subject matter, it is "Nelson Mandela" [released as "Free Nelson Mandela" in America]. It didn't exactly spring Mandela from jail single-handed, but it raised awareness of his plight like nothing else and helped to make apartheid one of the defining causes of the 1980s, something the man himself acknowledged after his release in 1990. And Dammers went further by founding the lobby group Artists Against Apartheid. In its broad outline it is an uplifting tale, but the full story is a turbulent affair, involving mental illness, creative paralysis, crippling debt, and a damaging musical row during which Dammers found himself on the opposing side to two black South African musicians who had been fighting apartheid decades before he paid that life-changing visit to Alexandra Palace: Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba.