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A Rock N Roll Tribute to Nelson Mandela

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

As the world mourns the loss of the former South African President and legendary freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, we also look back on the one of the biggest concerts in rock history.  For many of us, our first real encounter with Mandella’s struggle came on June 11, 1988, when scores of legendary musicians came together for the Freedomfest concert at London’s Wembley Stadium.

The concert, which was conducted as a tribute to Mandella on his 70th birthday, was broadcast all over the world and reached a global audience over 600 million.  Like the famous Live Aid benefit that preceded it several years earlier, the Mandela Day line up was star studded.  Unlike Live Aid, the goal of this event was to raise consciousness for a cause instead of money.  Eric Clapton, Sting, Phil Collins, Bryan Adams, Jackson Browne, Peter Gabriel, “Little” Steven Van Zandt and Dire Straits all delivered powerful performances along with passionate pleas to end apartheid.
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For rock fans in my generation, it was a departure from the care free “sex, drugs and rock n roll” message that prevailed at the time.  And more importantly, it mobilized the global movement that would later help free Mandela from prison and topple an oppressive regime.

Since then, many rock legends have also paid their respects to Mandela.  In 1990, a similar event was held in London that featured performances from Neil Young, Lou Reed, Chrissie Hynde, Bonnie Raitt and a host of others.  Other artists have conducted their own tributes to Mandella, including Bruce Springsteen and U2, who recently contributed new songs to the upcoming movie “Mandella:  Long Walk to Freedom”.

Today, as we pause to remember a truly great man, we can also take solace in the fact that rock music has helped change the world we live in.  R.I.P. Nelson Mandela.  And, as Neil Young would say, “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World”.


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