I stumbled across this song during a recent visit to Halifax, and was immediately enchanted. I’ve since tried to translate the lyrics, but have only really gotten so much as a single complete line (“They are all in prison”), as well as a few other scraps and pieces. (Mandela’s name and that of the continent of Africa transcend the limitations of language, of course.) Even from these miscellaneous fragments, however, it’s easy to discern the spirit of the story, which seems to permeate and glow throughout the harmonies, the cries of whose billowing anguish resound to the core.
Miriam Makeba, whose voice sustains the song and imbues it with its viscerally Angelic power, was a South African singer and activist who fought long against apartheid, and who endured exile and a host of other torments for doing so.
I've only had the good fortune to visit South Africa twice, and yet I feel pulled there by their Music, such as this. I can hear it echoing through the desolate halls of my heart, can feel it reverberating through my skull and gripping my spine. It is calling me home.
The throbbing in her voice is, to me, the sound of her spirit as it laments the injustices that had, for so many gruelling decades, afflicted her country. To listen to her howling nobility is to listen to the truth, raw and emancipatory, aching for the skies while chained to the ground. Here is a spirit that shines in the darkest of places, an instance of the fiery Light of hope burning undyingly amid the gathering storms of Time.