The world was rocked on Thursday when the news broke that Nelson Mandela has died at 95 years of age. South African President Jacob Zuma said, "Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father." CBC News has more details about his passing.

It seems appropriate to start this playlist of music honouring Nelson Mandela with a song from the woman known as "Mama Africa," the late Miriam Makeba. Because of her outspoken activism, she lived in exile from South Africa for 30 years, until Mandela invited her home after his release from prison.

Here is Makeba talking about Mandela, and singing “Soweto Blues,” with another South African legend, Hugh Masekela.

Masekela wrote the song “Soweto Blues,” which he and his one-time wife, Makeba, performed. Masekela also penned the political song “Mandela (Bring him Back Home).”

CBC Music has also commissioned a song in tribute to Nelson Mandela. Lorraine Klaasen was the obvious choice. The Soweto-born, Montreal based singer wrote a joyous song called, "Now is the Time."

Mandela called Ladysmith Black Mambazo "South Africa's cultural ambassadors,” and asked the group to accompany him to Sweden to receive his Nobel Peace Prize, and to perform at his inauguration. There are so many LBM songs that Mandela loved, but today this Bill Withers classic seems most appropriate. LBM is joined by R&B singer Des’ree.

U2 has a song in the new biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, called "Ordinary Love."

In 2009, the United Nations announced that Mandela's birthday, July 18, would now be known as Mandela Day. And just one year earlier, his 90th birthday was celebrated with a huge concert in Hyde Park in England. He received this birthday song from U2.

The Soweto Gospel Choir also sang an impressive version of "Happy Birthday" at the same event.

Back in the early '80s, English band the Special A.K.A. (also known as the Specials) released a song called “Free Nelson Mandela.” The song blew up all over the world, and even made its way into South Africa. Watch the band perform in 1984 on Top of the Pops, or watch this studio version of the classic song.

Musician Johnny Clegg is credited as forming the first big, racially mixed band in South Africa, in 1969. He too wrote a song about Mandela, "Asimbonanga" ("We haven't seen him").

Skip to 2:40 to see Mandela dance his way onstage. Or skip to 4:00 and hear Mandela say, “It is music and dancing that make me at peace with the world … and myself.” Then he urges the crowd to dance more and calls back the band.

Vusi Mahlasela is a South African musician who's celebrating the 20th anniversary of his first record this year. His song "When You Come Back" became an anthem after the fall of apartheid. In it, he sings to his friends and political exiles who left the country: "We will ring the bells and beat the drums when you come back."

Mahlasela sang it at Mandela's 90th birthday, and also at the opening of the 2010 World Cup, but this is the most passionate version I've found.

Miriam Makeba may be the best known female voice from Africa, but she’s not the only singer with continental reach. Salif Keita is often referred to as the "golden voice of Africa." He too wrote a song for Mandela, sung in Zulu and English.

Youssou N’Dour named not just a song, but an entire album after Mandela. The last song on the album is titled “Nelson Mandela.” Crank up this one.

Raffi, best known for his work in children's music, wrote a song based on a speech given by Mandela. Raffi had the honour of performing the song for Mandela and his wife, Graça Machel, at Ryerson University in 2001.

You can also hear some great tributes to Nelson Mandela by the following artists: Brenda Fassie, Carlos Santana and Simple Minds.

Is there a song you’d like to add to this playlist, or dedicate to Nelson Mandela? What did Mandela mean to you? Let us know in the comments.


World Voices: Miriam Makeba

Q&A: Ladysmith Black Mambazo on Paul Simon's Graceland at 25

Vusi Mahlasela's Sing to the People: album stream and Q&A

posted by Reuben Maan on Dec 05, 2013