Africa Sings!!! 'Happy birthday, Mr. Mandela' (39508)

Last Saturday night on the occasion of the 91st birthday of our beloved Mr. Nelson Mandela, New York Radio City Music Hall was transformed into a magnificent world overflowing with love, hope, imagery and a whole lot of soul-awakening music.

Although Mr. Mandella, the higly esteemed social justice activist and former president of South Africa, was unable to attend the celebration, his presence was strongly felt throughout the capacity-filled venue, as well-wishers continuously invoked his South African family name, Madiba. Additionally, images of Mr. Mandella appeared on huge screens while being acknowledged as an extraordinary man who made a great difference to end apartheid in South Africa.

In addition to paying tribute to Mr. Mandela, the entertaining three-hour concert, which was presented by 46664 (Mandela’s identification number during his 25-year incarceration by the South African government for his stance against apartheid) and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, served to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS on a global level. At the same time, the extraordinary evening also served as a fundraising event with proceeds earmarked for HIV/AIDS.

Amongst the star-studded talent providing the evening’s entertainment were the 46664 “ambassadors,” a group of international celebrities selected by Mr. Mandela to “speak to young people about the HIV/AIDS pandemic…and [spread] the prevention message.” They were joined by other popular screen celebrities that included Forest Whitaker, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg and Susan Sarandon. Borrowing from the African tradition, radio personality Tom Joyner officiated as the “town crier,” announcing Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” who got a sweet taste of the spirit as she was walking past the inspirational Soweto Gospel Choir, who served as the house choir for the evening. Can I get an amen, everyone? Amen.

Ahh Aretha! With something for everyone, the legendary Aretha Franklin’s rendition of “Make Them Hear You” brought the house down, as did Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday,” which brought the audience to their feet, singing along as they had done earlier to Gloria Gaynor’s popular disco anthem, “I Will Survive.” Gaynor, along with the Soweto Gospel Choir, also delivered a powerful rendition of the much-loved gospel tune “Oh Happy Day.” In addition, some of today’s most courageous and astutely evolving social justice advocates, including Alicia Keys, Wyclef Jean,, Josh Grobin and Queen Latifa, represented their generation splendidly. Carla Bruni, the first lady of France, did her thing beautifully, as did Dave Stewart, and Jesse McCartney and his two fabulous dancers/singers.

The superb gift of songs and collective consciousness from the African continent was truly phenomenal, thanks to Angelique Kidjo, the world music queen from Benin; the Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal;Suzanna Owiyo (Kenya); Emmanuel Jae (Sudan); and from South Africa, the gifted saxophonist Sipho Mabuse;the powerful and dramatic Thandiswa Mazawi; Chris Chameleon and his four-octave range; the great vocalist/guitarist Vusi Sidney Mahlasela; the engaging Yvonne Chaka Chaka; Freshlyground; and the unique rapper Loyiso. Time and again, the fantastic Soweto Gospel Choir, resplendent in their colorful attire, touched spirits everywhere in Radio City Music Hall. Crowning the evening was President Obama’s on-screen message in which he asked: “What can we do to reshape the world?…So much remains to be done. We must do our part to serve in our communities and stand up for what is right. That is what we can do for the man…This is what we can do if people have the courage to make it happen.”