South Africa Freedom Day Concert

You cannot give me freedom, I have always been free
Freedom lives, in me

The Corrs, as MC Mark Lamarr pointed out, embodied the spirit in which this celebration of South Africa’s first democratic elections was made – they were gracious enough to accept an unorthodoxly early billing for the greater good and played a lively 15-minute set, full of recent ‘classics’. Lamarr himself was full of surprises, not the least of which was a tuneful rendition of Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me”. Asked to fill time and again in the age-old tradition of such live extravaganzas, he brought on such co-presenters as Richard E. Grant, a patron of Celebrate South Africa, entertained accordingly, and held his tongue admirably – slipping just three times.

The higher you build your barriers, the taller I become
The further you take my rights away, the faster I will run

Lisa Roxanne, a 14-year-old south Londoner performed energetically, in a clear precursor to Mel B (whose “closest friends” made a valiant attempt to get onto the scene). Atomic Kitten, Baaba Maal, Mbawula and Lebo Mathosa all came and went inoffensively enough. The highlight on the top-half of the bill was undoubtedly Billy Ocean’s collaboration with Celebrate Music (a commendable project linking 36 SA and UK musicians) on “When the Going Gets Tough”; a shame that the schedule allowed them only the single track, though the opportunity to expunge the Boyzone cover/slaughter from memory was gratefully received.

You can deny me
You can decide to turn your face away, no matter – ’cause there’s

Many words have already been committed to print on Mr Mandela’s speech: introduced by SA High Commissioner Cheryl Carolus and then British PM Tony Blair, he spoke at length, thanking all present both here and at Clapham Common in 1986 and reiterating many times the importance of global ‘brotherhood’. Reports of his demise and his lacking as a public speaker are greatly exaggerated, and the crowd (perhaps split 60:40, UK:SA) showed their appreciation with frequent interruptions of spontaneous applause.

There’s something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Though you’re doing me wrong, so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone, oh no
There’s something inside so strong

Given the tough act of following star guest Nelson Mandela, Beverley Knight was clearly overwhelmed yet in fine voice, bringing the masses back down to earth (with a melodiously cushioned thump) with last summer’s smash “Greatest Day”, unavoidable ever since. Ex-Eurythmic Dave Stewart, along with guest vocalist (Lighthouse Family’s Tunde-esque) Gary “Mudbone” Cooper, was largely ignored – understandable that in so dense a line-up some acts would obtain less of a hold on the crowd’s collective attention – though their slightly more upbeat version of U2’s “One” would have been a stand-out point for some.

Brothers and sisters
When they insist, we’re just not good enough

Hugh Masekela and Ladysmith Black Mambazo were the African acts most familiar to the public, and hence the most appreciated – Masekela playing relaxed jazz and clearly at ease in the surroundings found overbearing by many others. Ladysmith put their all-conquering a cappella to good use, with new single “Congratulations South Africa” the poignant highlight (Congratulations South Africa; Congratulations on your freedom; Congratulations at last; Long walk to freedom).

Well we know better, just look them in the eye and say
We’re gonna do it anyway
We’re gonna do it anyway
We’re gonna do it anyway
You better get out of my way

REM, as the “most consistently successful rock act in chart history”, were obviously something of a coup for the organizers. Their presence lifted the crowd indescribably, those who had no interest previously pogo-ing alongside dedicated fans to classics “Losing My Religion” and “Man on the Moon”, as well as more recent tracks “Walk Unafraid”, “The Great Beyond” and “Imitation of Life”. Lead singer Michael Stipe read words from “another great man, this one from our corner of the world”, Dr Martin Luther King Jr and enthused impressively. But the best was saved for last. Labi Siffre’s anthem for a free South Africa, “Something Inside”, was greeted with a swell and accompanied by all acts still standing.

There’s something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Thought you’re doing me wrong, so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone, oh no
There’s something inside so strong

Stipe had previously sung of “looking for answers from the great beyond”. He was looking in the wrong place; the answers were all in Trafalgar Square.

The South Africa Freedom Day Concert on the Square took place in Trafalgar Square on Sunday 29 April 2001.

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About Atoz

(aka Dave Stock:) the first person in the world to write to, and probably the last to send in his biog. After a few useful one-off contributions, Atoz started his irregular A to Z of cultural icons. At the time of writing this, he's up to "O" - but there's still no sign of the biog. (Update - he still hadn't sent it in by the time he'd reached "Z"!)

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