Free Nelson Mandela

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"Nelson Mandela"
The special aka.jpg
Single by the Special A.K.A.
from the album In the Studio
B-side"Break Down the Door!"
Released5 March 1984
Label2 Tone CHS TT26
Songwriter(s)Jerry Dammers
Producer(s)Elvis Costello
The Special A.K.A. singles chronology
"Racist Friend"
"Nelson Mandela"
"What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend"

"Nelson Mandela" (known in some versions as "Free Nelson Mandela") is a song written by British musician Jerry Dammers, and performed by the band the Special A.K.A. with a lead vocal by Stan Campbell. It was first released on the single "Nelson Mandela"/"Break Down the Door" in 1984.

It was a protest against the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela by the apartheid South African government, and is considered a notable anti-apartheid song.[1]

The backing vocals were performed by Molly and Polly Jackson, two girls the band's drummer John Bradbury had "met in a bar in Camden", while the chorus was performed by session singers including Claudia Fontaine and Caron Wheeler, who later went on to appear with Soul II Soul.[2]

Unlike most protest songs, the track is upbeat and celebratory, drawing on musical influences from South Africa. The song peaked at number nine on the UK Singles Chart and was immensely popular in Africa. In December 2013, following the news of Nelson Mandela's death, the single re-entered at number 96 on the UK Singles Chart.


Dammers told Radio Times: "I knew very little about Mandela until I went to an anti-apartheid concert in London in 1983, which gave me the idea for 'Nelson Mandela'. I never knew how much impact the song would have: it was a hit around the world, and it got back into South Africa and was played at sporting events and ANC rallies. It became an anthem."[3]

Stan Campbell left the band right after the recording of the song and the release of the video for the song, and had to be persuaded to rejoin briefly for two live appearances on the BBC television show Top of the Pops in 1984.[citation needed] Following those appearances, Campbell left for good.

In 1984, the students' union at Wadham College, Oxford, passed a motion to end every college "bop" (dance) with the song. The tradition continues to this day. A Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute remake, released in 1988, featured Elvis Costello, Dave Wakeling, Ranking Roger and Lynval Golding on backing vocals.[citation needed]

At the Nelson Mandela 90th Birthday Tribute in London's Hyde Park in June 2008, the song was performed as the show's finale, with Amy Winehouse on lead vocals. However, careful listening to the soundtrack revealed that, instead of "Free Nelson Mandela", she at times sang "Free Blakey, My Fella" (a reference to her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, a former drug dealer imprisoned for assault).[4]

The song was featured on Peter Kay's spoof television programme Britain's Got the Pop Factor. In March 2010, the New Statesman listed it as one of the "Top 20 Political Songs".[5] Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band opened with the song in January 2014, at the Bellville Velodrome in Cape Town, South Africa,[6] in the band's first ever concert in South Africa, which took place just six weeks after Mandela's death. Springsteen later dedicated "We Are Alive" to Mandela.

Track listing[edit]

Recording of 1984[edit]

  1. "Nelson Mandela" (Dammers) – 4:12
  2. "Break Down the Door!" (Dammers, Campbell, Bradbury) – 3:48
  • CHS TT1226 12"[8]
  1. "Nelson Mandela (Extended Version)" (Dammers) – 4:34
  2. "Break Down the Door! (Extended Version)" (Dammers, Campbell, Bradbury) – 5:01
  • Chrysalis 12" 4V9 42793 – American Version
  1. "Free Nelson Mandela (Club Mix)" (Dammers) – 6:28
  2. "Free Nelson Mandela (Instrumental Mix)" (Dammers) – 4:30
  3. "Free Nelson Mandela (LP Version)" (Dammers) – 4:07

Recording of 1988[edit]

  • Tone FNM1 7" (70th Birthday Remake)
  1. "Free Nelson Mandela (70th Birthday Remake)" (Dammers)
  2. "Nelson Mandela (Original Version)" (Dammers)
  • Tone FNMX1 12" (70th Birthday Remake)[9]
  1. "Free Nelson Mandela (The Whole World is Watching Dance Mix)" (Dammers)
  2. "Nelson Mandela (Original Version)" (Dammers)


Recording of 1984[edit]

Recording of 1988[edit]

  • Jerry Dammers, Tom Fredrickes – producer
  • Ndonda Khuze – lead vocals
  • Jerry Dammers – bass program, drum program, keyboards
  • Rhythm Doctor – scratches
  • Jonas Gwangwa – trombone
  • Betty Boo Hlelea, Julia Mathunjwa, Pinise Saul – backing vocals



  1. ^ "Nelson Mandela and music: Ten essential anti-Apartheid songs - latimes". 5 December 2013. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  2. ^ Dave Simpson, "Jerry Dammers: how I made Free Nelson Mandela", The Guardian, 9 December 2013. Retrieved 9 December 2013.
  3. ^ Nelson Mandela Songfacts
  4. ^ Mark Savage (21 July 2008). "Amy and Blake: Love and turmoil". BBC. Retrieved 11 November 2008.
  5. ^ Thompson, Jennifer (25 March 2010). "Top 20 Political Songs: Free Nelson Mandela". New Statesman. Retrieved 25 March 2010.
  6. ^ "01 26 14 Cape Town, South Africa". Bruce Springsteen Official Web Site. 27 January 2014. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  7. ^ 2Tone Discography Nelson Mandela release details.
  8. ^ 2Tone Discography Nelson Mandela release details 12".
  9. ^ 2Tone Discography Nelson Mandela 1988 release details.
  10. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 286. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  11. ^ "The Special AKA – Nelson Mandela" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  12. ^ Irish singles chart placings.
  13. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – week 18, 1984" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40.
  14. ^ "The Special AKA – Nelson Mandela" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  15. ^ "The Special AKA – Nelson Mandela". Top 40 Singles.
  16. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  17. ^ Nelson Mandela chart log 1988.
  18. ^ "Jaaroverzichten 1984". Ultratop. Retrieved 25 December 2020.
  19. ^ "Top 100-Jaaroverzicht van 1984". Dutch Top 40. Retrieved 25 December 2020.
  20. ^ "Jaaroverzichten – Single 1984". Retrieved 25 December 2020.