African Songbook: A Musical Tribute to the Life of Nelson Mandela

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African Songbook: A Musical Tribute to the Life of Nelson Mandela composed by Peter Louis van Dijk (Act 1), Mike Campbell (Act 2) and Van Dijk (Act 3) with a libretto in Xhosa and English by Michael Williams (1962-).

After its premiere, the show’s title was changed to Mandela Trilogy.

The original text

The work was conceived in celebration of Nelson Mandela in the run up to his 92nd birthday, and to serve as a cultural showpiece concurrent with the 2010 World Cup Soccer tournament in South Africa. It is a truly home-brewed production that highlights the unique and forceful sound of the African voice. The show employs a unique fusion of traditional Xhosa songs, jazz tunes and modern music in honour of one of the world’s most inspiring statesmen.

Act 1 - an encounter with traditional rural music. Van Dijk explores Mandela’s teenage years setting the first act in rural Qunu, culminating in the young man’s initiation into adulthood and his decision to leave his village for the bright lights of Johannesburg.

Act 2 - a jazz musical (Sophiatown Rising) by Mike Campbell. The narrative continues with Mandela working as a lawyer in the township of Sophiatown, shortly before the Nationalist Party’s forced eviction of the township residents. Mandela’s political education and community leadership role becomes more pronounced during this time, as he rallies black South Africans toward the African National Congress cause.

Act 3 - a powerful contemporary opera, with music by Peter Louis van Dijk, on themes of revolution, incarceration and freedom. The story concludes with the repercussions of the Sharpeville Massacre, Mandela’s trial and incarceration, and his eventual release from the infamous Robben Island prison.

The character of Mandela is portrayed by a different singers to portray the complex aspects of his personality.

World premiere at Artscape Opera House, Cape Town, on 17 June 2010. Mandela Trilogy made its European premier at the Wales Millennium Centre on 18 June 2012. The production was filmed for television and screened on BBC’s SC4 Channel. The show has subsequently toured to Deutsches Theater Munich, Germany (2014); Teatro Alighieri, Ravenna, Italy; Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, Wales; Southbank Centre, London, England; Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, England; Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, Ireland; Birmingham Hippodrome, Birmingham, England; The Lowry Theatre, Manchester, England (2016); Dubai Opera, Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Hong Kong, China (2017).

Translations and adaptations

Performance history in South Africa

2010: Presented by Cape Town Opera (17–19 June) and (as Mandela Trilogy) at Montecasino, Johannesburg and the Playhouse Theatre, Durban.

All subsequent performances as Mandela Trilogy:

2018: Presented at Artscape Opera House


Wayne Muller. 2018. A reception history of opera in Cape Town: Tracing the development of a distinctly South African operatic aesthetic (1985–2015). Unpublished PhD thesis.

"Background'. Cape Town Opera website.

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