The Mandela concert that reminded me of what South Africa once was, and what we could still be

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

When I got an invitation to attend the virtual  United Nations Chamber Orchestra Concert celebrating the Nelson Mandela Day on Sunday 18, July, 2021,, I gladly accepted. After all during these difficult times of uncertainties around Covid-19, and the destructive unrest that visited South Africa last week, we all need something that distracts us and gives us hope that the future is bright after all.

For me this invitation became that necessary distraction on a Sunday afternoon. I know many had a better and meaningful distraction than mine, such as those who after witnessing the trauma causing events of last week, took their brooms, mops and water filled buckets, to clean up the mess left behind by the destruction of properties as building were torched, malls and essential businesses, such as medicine dispensaries were looted, and the important work of vaccinating South Africans to protect them from contracting Covid-19 was disrupted. The debris left behind but this destruction are certainly a sad reminder of what we have become as a nation, a hard reality that is sometimes hard to take in as we all assumed that we had long left that destructive path behind us.  But certainly we have not not as the recent events have rudely reminded us.

But for me I felt that attending this virtual concert was healing, not only because it reminded me of the promise of prosperity, peace and harmony. That is the hope that was once  promised to us when Nelson Mandela was released from prison after spending 27 years of incarceration and eventually leading us to form those snaking queues to vote , ushering in democracy in 1994,  but also because attending the concert gave me a sense of what we could still become, If we chose the path of peace instead oif that of violence and instability in the face of the current challenges. After all that is the path that would get us  to work to get the economy to work, and in the process, get the cancer of corruption and greed behind us..

The concert reminded me also of a man who really did his best to try and construct a peaceful nation out of a divided society that before those efforts saw blacks and whites generally regard each other as potential enemies, and yet they shared the same country, breathed the same air and their destiny pretty much tied to each other’s fate.

This UN concert also reminded me of how we took for granted Mandela’s leadership quality that took into consideration the complexities of this country and hence, he made us believe that united we stood strong, and that greed, corruption, tribalism, racism and intolerance, was something to frown on.

Watching and listening to the heart touching music and musicians perform soul touching music on Sunday, with the artists’ repertoire quite wide ranging, from classical, reggae to pop, made me hopeful that whatever challenges we are facing as a nation, will soon be a thing of the past as this country has a resilient spirit and its people have the ability, capability and the wisdom to overcome the current challenges. But that is on condition that our people choose to do so, just like they did 27 years ago. Then, they chose peace over violence, love over hatred, tolerance over intolerance as they overwhelming voted for Mandela to become the first President of a democratic South Africa. For that feat the world celebrated us as a model nation that had triumphed over several difficulties, such as racism and discrimination, the twin evils that had entrenched themselves in the psyche of the people for over 300 years.

But attending the concert gave me space to breathe and regain my hope for the beloved country’s future. I felt it in the music at the concert. I saw it on the faces of the musicians that performed, including our own talent that took a good account of themselves in celebrating the life and times of the late statesman Mandela.

The power of music to heal broken hearts and put at ease restless minds, cannot be underestimated, and right now, it is probably what the country needs to reconnect itself to what it once represented, a hopeful, peaceful and optimistic nation that looked forward to a bright, united country with its constitution granting everyone human dignity.

My intention is not to make those who were not part of this concert jealous, but to share what I felt on Sunday once 3pm struck, and I was ready to be transported into a space  within my soul that made me feel whole, peaceful and hopeful about the ability of the human race to thrive even under adverse conditions and difficulties. Granted, I have a weakness for classical music, but am sure even those with the remotest interest in this beautiful musical genre, would have felt a sense of peace and stillness within their soul, If they also attended this concert, and am sure those who did also felt what I felt.

The Mandela themed concert helped me to feel a bit batter from a sense of guilty that lingered in my consciousness about the fact that I was not part of several good South Africans that volunteered their energy and went all out to malls, shopping centres and any other destroyed area that needed cleaning up and did their best to clean up the debris, the aftermath of the recent destruction.

As I watched the concert and took in the music, the beautiful lyrics, the thumping rhythms from the various instruments, and the soothing melodies, it felt like I too was going through the debris of my scattered mind, strewn all over the place by the events of last week. The music made me feel healed from the scars of watching violence, destruction, hatred and anger, explode in front of me on TV, social media and word of mouth from many people trying to share their experiences, trauma, perspectives and understanding or misunderstanding of what was going on in Mandela’s country.

And so what happened is this: On the occasion of Mandela Day on Sunday, 18 July 2021, the UN Chamber Music Society (UNCMS)  presented  this concert in celebration of Nelson Mandela International Day. The music repertoire of the concert honoured  African heritage, by featuring compositions by extraordinary black composers who changed the course of classical and pop music history – including multi-Grammy award winning composer Billy Childs, and Pulitzer Prize winning composer George Walker. The concert also   featured special performances by Julian Marley, Sara Marley –who  sung repertoire by . Lauryn Hill,  Addis Pablo, Vusi Nova, Onesimus, as well singer Nonie Mtirara (Mandela’s niece) – who sung an excerpt from Madiba the African Opera. 

The concert was opened with remarks by Ndaba Mandela, founder and  chairman of Mandela Institute for Humanity, and Mathu Joyini, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations.

New Afro pop sensation Onesimus

One of the revelations at the concert was emerging Afro pop sensation, one Onesimus, born in Malawi  and whose performance was a marvel to watch with his new  South African produced single Solomoni touching on an issue which disturbingly is increasingly becoming another pandemic in South Africa after Covid-19, Gender Based Violence.

Born Armstrong Kalua, multi genre, cross over, Afro/Pop artist Onesimus, has done it again taking the continent by storm, his good vibrations continue to make his people proud. This latest single Solomoni by this Malawian’s award-winning musician was produced by DJ Megi in South Africa. In the video’s third week of release, the audio / track Solomoni topped the iTunes charts for over two days at Number 1 position and is the biggest song in Malawi currently.

The song is targeted as a message against (GBV) Gender Based Violence with the chorus of the song saying “ Love her like King Solomon”. As a message to all men to: “ love and  treat your woman like a Queen. It’s a beautiful single that obviously gained the Malawian musician a spot in the line-up of the UN concert watched by millions of people from around the world.

“In recognition of the former South African President’s contribution to the culture of peace and freedom, Nelson Mandela International Day recognizes his values and dedication to the service of humanity in the struggle for democracy internationally, and the promotion of a culture of peace throughout the world. Founded in 2016, the UNCMS is dedicated to promoting the UN goals at large – through the universal language of music,” the UN says in a statement about this initiative.

However ironically, this concert must have reminded many in South Africa, I mean those that might have attended this virtual gig of the words of the former President, especially in the context of what the country experienced last week.

“It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity,’’ Mandela,” said.

Certainly the events of last week in the country are contrary to this counsel from the father of the nation, nelson Mandela, who must have turned in his grave watching his legacy of a peaceful nation being trashed in the streets literally.

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