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Musicians & tQ Writers On Anti-Fascist Anthems
Luke Turner , October 4th, 2016 08:32

Featuring contributions from Ben Durutti, Penny Rimbaud, Bobby Barry, Jeremy Allen, Ben Myers, Kevin McCaighy, Stewart Smith, Neil Cooper, Matt Evans, Tony F Wilson, Leo Chadburn, Emily Mackay, David Bennun, Phil Harrison, Arnold De Boer, Joel McIver, Russell Cuzner, Jeremy Bolm, John Doran, TV Smith, James Sherry, Jonathan Meades, Tristan Bath, JR Moores, Julian Marszalek, Captain Sensible, Andy Moor, Christine Casey, Nic Bullen and Stewart Lee


The Special AKA – ‘Nelson Mandela’

With the benefit of 32 years’ hindsight, it seems amazing – and rightly so – that it took a pop record to bring the name of Nelson Mandela to the attention of a generation and ultimately politicise huge sections of it. And it’s all the more amazing given the rise of the right on both sides of the Atlantic in 1984. Margaret Thatcher had increased her mandate in the wake of the Falklands conflict and was about to take on the miners while over in the States, Ronald Reagan was gleefully declaring, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” Set against this backdrop of social unrest, the panic caused by AIDS and the imminent threat of nuclear war, ‘Nelson Mandela’ by Special AKA was instrumental in giving the struggle against South African apartheid a figurehead for British youth while increasing awareness of Mandela on a global scale. Crucially, this was achieved not through a worthy-but-dull approach but with the music that felt celebratory as well as defiant. The construction of the song had proved a torturous process for composer Jerry Dammers. Having helmed a string of smash hit singles from ‘Gangsters’ to ‘Ghost Town’, Dammers – along with drummer John Bradbury – was all that remained of The Specials. His compositions became increasingly intense – witness the harrowing experience of ‘The Boiler’ – but what lifted ‘Nelson Mandela’ from a potentially minority interest status [in the UK] to a Top 10 smash was an approach aimed squarely at the dancefloor. At a time of splintered youth cults, this was a record that united the tribes while raising consciousness of a grave situation. Equally as important was the single’s back cover that, in simple and effective language, conveyed the injustice of both Mandela’s imprisonment (and the barbaric conditions under which he languished) whilst printing contact details for the Anti-Apartheid Movement. While not directly responsible for freeing Mandela from Pollsmoor/Victor Verster Prison or bringing about the end of apartheid, it did start the ball rolling in a way that so few political records before, or since, have. The next time someone tells you that pop and politics don’t mix, just play them this.
Julian Marszalek