Afro Week: A Requeim For Mandela

All this week we’re paying tribute to Nelson Mandela here on the Soul Clap blog by celebrating the music of his home continent and beyond. 2013 was an amazing year for Afro and Afro influenced music, in fact, it’s the year of Multi-Culti and in Mandela’s honor we’ll be exploring this budding genre.

It was Saturday morning, I had checked out of my hotel room and I stepped into a taxi to go to the airport. The driver was listening to a Haitian AM radio station, playing a recording of a Nelson Mandela speech. As I daydreamed, the tribute continued in Creole and then through the AM static a magical song floated to my ears. It shouted Mandela’s name and even without understanding the language it was clear that this song was praising this great man with uplifting energy for the world to hear. The tropical vibes overwhelmed me as Miami passed by outside the taxi’s window. Was this music African? Caribbean? I had to know.

Luckily I had Shazam. I was skeptical that it could identify such an obscure song, but a few seconds after holding my phone up to the crackling speaker, there it was: Larose – Mandela. Needless to say the song had touched my soul and I immediately found it on the internet to share with the world. The song began to play through my phone and the driver turned the music down and shook his head in amazement. It turns out the song is Kompa music from is native Haiti. As I held the phone between us, he sang along to the lyrics and began to cry tears of joy, telling me in broken english, how important this song was in his life. He told me that for Haitians, Mandela was the greatest man in the last 100 years and this song told his story.

Peter Rothberg of The Nation compiled a top 10 list of Nelson Mandela songs and said “few towering figures of the twentieth century inspired as many songs as Mandela.” From the most famous one by The Specials, to African music legend, Hugh Maskela, to Eddy Grant, all these songs are heartfelt tributes. But for me, the lesser known Larose tribute that I heard in Etienne’s taxi in Miami has the pure Afro-Caribbean energy that lifts my heart and moves my feet. A fitting tribute to one of the greatest freedom fighters of our time.