Berlin Concert Pays Tribute to Mandela

The RED Ballroom hosted a musical evening to commemorate the legacy of Nelson Mandela two years after his death. Eight different bands took over the RED Ballroom for the evening which featured a variety of different musical genres. The aim of the evening was of course to remember the great man, but also to utilise his legacy to effect change in the world today
  December 06th, 2015

Berlin Concert Pays Tribute to Mandela

Posted by Ira Spitzer, Deutsche Welle, on Sunday, December 6th, 2015


To honor the former South African president and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Berlin's Red Ballroom hosted an event which featured eight bands playing a variety of musical styles.

The jazz band Satori travelled from Johannesburg, South Africa, to be part of the occasion. Saxophone and flute player and co-leader of the group, Ashley Ally, said Mandela's absence had left a major void in his country's politics. South Africa's first democratically elected leader died on December 5, 2013 after a long illness.

"His decisions were often not popular, they were misunderstood, but they always looked to the future and they were always selfless," Ally said. "They didn't center around his ambitions or his greed or his importance. He always looked to the future and what would benefit the majority of people in South Africa, and I think that has changed in South Africa."

Missing Mandela

Ally was critical of the ruling ANC party which Mandela took over after his release from prison in 1990. Currently the party is headed by South Africa's president Jacob Zuma.

"We've moved politically into a situation where a lot of the thinking is ideological, is stale, is not fit for purpose in the modern economy and in the modern day of politics," Ally said. He said he was disappointed by "a situation where our ruling alliance does not have answers to questions."

The event's organizer Louis-Jean Mendy, a reggae musician originally from Senegal and now based in Berlin, said to him, Mandela would always remain an icon.

"Mandela is a hero in Senegal, is a hero for us," Mendy said. "I came to South Africa in 1997 because of Mandela. I was an illegal immigrant in South Africa, a refugee and we always had trouble with xenophobia but Mandela was the only one who said 'hey, leave these guys'… he was really a peaceful person."

What would Mandela have done?

Mandela's influence was certainly not just limited to South Africa. He was one of few leaders in history to have achieved near unanimous admiration by the time of his death in 2013. Many would like to know what his take would be on today's issues such as war and the global refugee crisis.

"You can look anywhere, there's some conflict and some violence, and some conflict and some hatred happening anywhere and I think that soft diplomacy and the willingness to negotiate up until the end, that Mandela had, and that Mandela brought to the world is sorely lacking," Ally said.

On this night, people danced to the African rhythms of the Senegalese band Moussa Coulibaly, followed up with Cuban music from Trova Five. Mendy calls the tribute concert Caravan, because it's designed to be itinerant, picking up acts from different corners of the globe, and able to travel beyond Berlin in the future.

Ubuntu at work

Now in its second year, the concert was put on by the Mendy's Ubuntu Initiative, which takes its name from the Southern African word meaning a universal bond.

"I said why not create this concept Ubuntu, with the artists, with friends who can really join us and promote music in general which can federate people. Because music doesn't have borders," Ally said.

The artists largely donated their time to the event and it was presented in cooperation with PLUS Berlin, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Red Ballroom and the Kau-Kau bar.

Darnell Stephens Summers of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy said the evening was not just about remembering the man, but about using Mandela's legacy to effect change in the modern world.

"If there's anything we've learned from Nelson Mandela, one thing is clear, that you're going to have to put it all on the line in some way, to achieve that goal of peace, freedom and justice," Stephens Summers said.