There isn't a music genre around which paid more attention to criticizing the racist and inhuman apartheid regime in South Africa than reggae! Last year anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela would have celebrated his hundredth birthday, and next year it'll be exactly twenty years ago since Madiba was finally released after years of imprisonment. In London the expo 'Mandela The Exhibition' is still running until the beginning of June, and VP Records now commemorates the man and his struggle with double compilation album 'Reggae Mandela', an anthology of songs from the period 1976 (the rather obscure opener 'South Africa' by Mighty Travellers or The Travellers) to 2015 (closing 'Thank You Mr. Mandela' by Carlene Davis, originally to be found on her 'Dripping Blood' album), featuring songs in which the apartheid system is being criticized or even demonized, Nelson Mandela's release from prison is demanded, former president Pieter Willem Botha, nicknamed 'Die Groot Krokodil', is verbally chastised ('Mr. Botha' by Mighty Diamonds, 'Pressure On Botha' by Jimmy Cliff & Josey Wales or Cocoa Tea's 'President Botha'), to celebrating Mandela's release, a single song about Steve Biko, the murdered leader of ANC's counterpart Black People's Convention or BPC (Beenie Man's 'Steve Biko'), and finally the celebration of Madiba's legacy.
In the track list classics like Alpha Blondy's 'Apartheid Is Nazism', Aswad's 'Set Them Free', UB40's 'Sing Our Own Song' or Tony Rebel's 'Mandela Story', but just as well unjustly forgotten gems like Frankie Jones' 'Free South Africa' (over Black Uhuru's General Penitentiary riddim), Sugar Minott's 'Nah Go To South Africa' (a revamp of Prince Alla's 'Funeral'), 'Black Heroes' by Snowman (over the Answer/Never Let Go riddim), one of many artists who've meanwhile slipped back into oblivion, 'Free Africa' by Charlie Chaplin over that same Answer riddim, or the nyahbinghi-influenced 'Crying In Soweto' by Harold Butler & The Four Corners. Together with the extensive (and once again excellent) liner notes by Harry Wise, who in a few pages sketches the history of the apartheid system, the struggle of Nelson Mandela and the ANC against that system, and the role reggae played in denouncing this racist system and eventually even aiding in bringing about its downfall, this double compilation album forms a unique time document about a dark era that should forever be part of our collective memory. Amandla ngawethu!