Music for Mandela

In December 1986, to “celebrate 240 days non-stop against apartheid outside the South African Embassy”, the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group held a fundraising benefit.  The Music for Mandela benefit night took place at Islington Town Hall in north London and was billed as a benefit “for South African liberation”. For City Group, at the time, this was a large-scale fundraiser (although in later years they would organiser far larger benefit  gigs).  This event relied on the importance of the anti-apartheid cause to draw in a crowd rather than internationally famous big name musicians.  In this respect, the Music for Mandela gig, held in the auditorium of a municipal building, contrasts starkly with the huge    fundraising concert organised by the national Anti-Apartheid Movement two years later at Wembley Arena to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday.

Music for Mandela flier

Now this event was planned to raise money, to raise funds for City Group’s anti-apartheid campaigning and to send to the liberation movements in South Africa.  But, it was also designed to publicise the Non-Stop Picket and mobilise new participants to City Group’s campaigning activities.  This outcome was anticipated in the publicity material for the gig which stated, “there is no audience… there are only participants”, and reinforced by the choice of music to be performed.  Most of the musicians listed to play at this gig were politicised street musicians – City Group Singers, the Horns of Jericho, and Sambatucada.  In one shape or form, all of these musicians regularly performed on the Non-Stop Picket.

Sambatucada were a Carnival troupe who (as their name suggests) played samba rhythms.  Steve Kitson was one of their number. As Batucada Mandela, they regularly played at larger rallies on the Non-Stop Picket and other protests.  Long before samba troupes became ubiquitous on political protests in Britain, Batucada Mandela followed the Brazilian tradition of using samba rhythms and the percussive beat of the drums to unify a crowd of protestors into an effective bloc.  After the end of apartheid in South Africa, Batucada Mandela renamed themselves Bloco Liberdade and continue to play on demonstrations to this day.

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About Gavin Brown

Lecturer in Human Geography University of Leicester
This entry was posted in Archival research and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Music for Mandela

  1. Pingback: Christmas on the Non-Stop Picket | Non-Stop Against Apartheid

  2. Pingback: The Wedding Present support the Non-Stop Picket | Non-Stop Against Apartheid

  3. Pingback: Surrounding the South African Embassy (to remember the Soweto Uprising) | Non-Stop Against Apartheid

  4. Pingback: Steven Kitson: anti-apartheid activist who introduced protest samba to Britain | Non-Stop Against Apartheid

  5. Home- but heartrecorded …

  6. Pingback: Mandela Memories: urban connections, protest connections | Non-Stop Against Apartheid

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