Today is Freedom Day in South Africa, a date commemorating the introduction of a non-racial constitution which came into effect on this day in 1994, and the start of the nation’s first post-apartheid democratic elections where everyone of voting age, irrespective of the colour of their skin, was allowed to take part freely for the first time, liberating both the oppressor and the oppressed. Some 20 million people, 18 million more than had voted at the previous election, queued to cast their vote over three days, waiting for many hours for an opportunity which had hitherto been denied them by a ruling white minority.
Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress claimed 62 per cent of the vote and, on 10 May 1994, Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president.
“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign,” he declared in his inaugural address to supporters in Pretoria.
Interestingly, it also marks the date that slavery was definitively abolished in France’s colonies (in 1848) and that Italian partisans arrested and killed dictator Benito Mussolini, founder of Europe’s first fascist movement (in 1945).
There are many songs about freedom in its various guises and different interpretations of it, obviously. Here’s ‘Mother Freedom’, by Bread, with its simple yet effective lines
People stay alive and people keep dying
So don’t lose it”
Indeed, Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘He Was My Brother’ was dedicated to Andrew Goodman, a classmate of Paul Simon’s and one of three American civil rights activists murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Neshoba County, Mississippi during Freedom Summer, 1964.
Which songs are you reminded of? There’s Paul McCartney’s ‘Freedom’, of course, an immediate, passionate and defiant response to the 2001 9/11 terror attacks in New York. Likewise, although from an opposing standpoint, Neil Young’s controversial, biting assessment of retaliatory operations in Iraq throughout his 2006 album Living with War. Similarly, Donovan’s ‘Ballad of a Crystal Man’ pours scorn on the idea of making peace through war; in his case, Vietnam:
“Walk along and talk along and live your lives quite freely
But leave our children with their toys of peppermint and candy
For seagull I don’t want your wings
I don’t want your freedom in a lie”
The Housemartins doubted just how politically liberated British society was in 1986, certainly as it was portrayed by and in the media, in ‘Freedom’:
“From the front page news to the interviews
It’s sink the reds and lift the blues
They pretend they’re differing points of view
But it’s only different shades of blue”
Whether it be serious social commentary (The Cranberries, ‘Zombie’), delight at obtaining temporary escape from work or study (Alice Cooper, ‘School’s Out’), satisfaction with confrontation resulting in being free from a trying relationship (Steve Winwood, ‘Freedom Overspill’), even just a respectful celebration of an artist’s lyrical independence from the inconvenient constraints of accepted modern language in bringing back an old verb not seen since the works of centuries past for the sake of rhyme (Bob Dylan, ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’), if it enters your head or is something which in itself compels you to make like The Who’s Tommy — or John Inman’s Mr Humphries in camp television sitcom Are You Being Served?, if you prefer — and joyously exclaim ‘I’m Free’, please don’t keep it to yourself today.
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