BRIGHT BLUE'S GIFT TO NELSON MANDELA (2003)
It must have been late in 1989, when I heard Bright Blue play a new song at the Roxy in Melville, Johannesburg. The band hadn't even worked it up into a full arrangement. Dan Heymann just played it on his piano, and Tom Fox sung. The words carried the uncertainty of those times.
The last few months of that year flew by so fast. I remember the Cape Flats black with smoke from burning barricades, raging defiance against farcical elections, purple rain and crowds taking back the beaches in Cape Town, De Klerk and Pik Botha all smug on television, a huge rally in Jo'burg as Sisulu and others were released, marches and more marches through the streets of the cities, culminating in a massive one in Cape Town where Bishop Tutu proclaimed the 'rainbow nation'.
In the middle of it all, at the noisy rock 'n roll Roxy, I heard this song. 'Madiba' Tom Fox said, 'Madiba, Madiba' he sung. There was an intimacy, an excitement about using that name. It was coming, you just knew Nelson Mandela's release was imminent, and Bright Blue's Dan Heymann wrote this song, anticipating.
February 1990 came and went. I remember the excitement of seeing the first photograph of Nelson Mandela in the newspaper. Now we all knew what the man looked like, and what he sounded like. Coming through strong in the crushed chaos at the Parade, Cape Town, but booming through officially, from FNB, Soccer City in Jo'burg, in that rapturous, super charged couple of days where the world scampered to catch every next appearance, as the man met his country again.
But in the Bright Blue camp, years of hard work had taken their toll. The band didn't last out 1990. They went their separate ways for a while, and Dan Heymann, keyboard player, left for New York. I never heard the 'Madiba song' again.
More than a decade later, September 11 2001 to be precise, Dan Heymann is a little late for his day job. His place of employment – the 96th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The building is hit while Dan's still riding the subway. None of his colleagues survive.
Dan told me in an email recently, "One thing that came out of September 11 for me, was the realization of how quickly and easily one can become a victim. So when my former partners from Bright Blue called to see how I was coping, I had a whole 'now or never' moment, regarding a couple of 'never properly recorded' songs. I knew the other guys still collaborated, obviously I've followed what they've been doing since I've been living in New York. Turns out they'd been doing some writing too, and had a couple of their own brand-new tunes on the boil. And in these digital times, it wasn't that big a stretch to email some skeleton instrumentation to each other, right before I was due to hit Cape Town for a hasty vacation. "
While Bright Blue have continued to record and release music over the time that Dan has been away, this is the first time they've recorded with their talented keyboard player in more than ten years. They put down a couple of tracks with Dan, and they didn't forget the Madiba song. As band member Ian Cohen says, "Some songs just fight their way out, this one wanted to be heard."
The song is called 'Madiba 1990'.
'It's a gift from Bright Blue to Nelson Mandela for his 85th birthday (on July 18th ), and to South Africa, and the world,' says the band's Peter Cohen.
Ian Cohen says, 'We wish Madiba a very happy birthday, and really, this is just our little way of saying thank you for making our country great and allowing us the privilege of living through such amazing times, and coming out the other end…happy to be here.'
The song starts off the way it did back in '89. Quietly, with just Dan's piano and Tom Fox's vocals, like a pretty pop ballad. It ends in a rousing, rhythmical crescendo of jive guitar and marabi style horns that sound so generically South African you know exactly where you are. Helping out the original band members are Buddy Wells on Sax and David Langemann (mixing).
Last year  Bright Blue released a compilation CD, 'Every Now And Then'. This year they're taking a different path. 'Madiba 1990' will be released on the Internet, through the SA Rock Digest site.
'The world is in chaos and so is the record industry. The Internet allows us to get music to all corners of the world almost immediately without endless record deal negotiations, which are region by region. This appears to be the new way of delivering music, and we want all to hear it,' says Ian.
Bright Blue fans can download 'Madiba 1990' free off the net.
Nic Hofmeyr, May 2003.
The lyrics for 'Madiba 1990' are here.