Mandela birthday concert mixes music with AIDS fight

It was a great concert for one of the "most wonderful people on Earth," in the words of singer Annie Lennox, who spoke from the hearts of the tens of thousands of people who gathered in London's Hyde Park on Friday evening to celebrate Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday, dpa reported.

A host of celebrities including actor Will Smith and singer Leona Lewis joined the audience in a chorus of Happy Birthday in honour of Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is regarded as a moral authority around the world.

Thousands of people from many countries sent Mandela text messages with birthday wishes and expressions of gratitude which were projected onto big screens. Pop groups including Queen, Simple Minds and Razorlight, as well as the performers Eddy Grant, Zucchero, Johnny Clegg and others, made the mild summer evening a four-hour open-air party and an incomparable tribute to the former South African president, who turns 90 on July 18.

Mandela himself provided an especially poignant moment when he - supported by a cane and his wife, Graca - slowly got onto the stage to cheers from the audience. Though frail and marked by health problems, Mandela firmly called for the fight against AIDS to continue.

"I'm happy to be in London to celebrate my birthday. But while we're celebrating, many people in the world are in need ... Our goal is freedom for everyone," Mandela said, meaning freedom from poverty, AIDS, and the AIDS virus HIV. "But after nearly 90 years of life, it's time for new hands to take the burden from people's shoulders. It now lies in your hands."

"It's in our hands" is the motto of Mandela's anti-AIDS campaign 46664, named after the number he wore in prison in South Africa. The country's all-white, minority regime locked up the black anti- apartheid activist for 27 years. Mandela was released in 1990.

Despite his long incarceration, Mandela has always radiated positive energy, noted musician Peter Gabriel. "After 27 years in prison, it wasn't revenge that he wanted, but forgiveness and peace," Gabriel said.

The number 46664 also played a big role on Friday. It served as the name of the concert, for which 46,664 tickets were officially sold. All proceeds were to go to the fight against AIDS. Mandela's anti-AIDS campaign 46664 began with a similar concert a number of years ago.

Mandela's birthday bash blended emotional, rousing appeals for charity with a perfectly staged music show. There were hardly any breaks separating the performances of the more than 20 widely varied artists, almost all of whom showed themselves to be highly motivated and in top form.

With their song Mandela Day, Simple Minds caused many in the audience to break out in goosebumps. A rapping Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, made the crowd dance. And Queen, with singer Paul Rodgers, really let their hair down.

To the surprise of many fans, Amy Winehouse indeed turned up at the concert, appearing well rested a week and a half after collapsing. Self-assured and poised, the 24-year-old soul singer took the stage to the cheers of the huge audience, danced around a little, and strode down the runway on her high-heeled plateau shoes right into the middle of the crowd.

As she sang Rehab and Valerie, Winehouse did not seem fidgety or uncertain, as she often has in the past. She told British broadcaster ITV that after the concert she planned to return to the hospital where she is being treated for emphysema and an irregular heartbeat.

With his song Gimme Hope Jo'anna, Eddy Grant recalled the music world's battle against South Africa's apartheid regime, which reached its zenith 20 years ago. On the occasion of Mandela's 70th birthday, songwriter Jerry Dammers rounded up numerous stars for a concert in London's Wembley Stadium to sing for Mandela's release. Dammers' song Free Nelson Mandela became the movement's anthem and it rounded out Friday's Hyde Park concert.

The ensemble of musicians, led by Winehouse, once again sang Free Nelson Mandela. Alluding to her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, who has been jailed on assault charges, Winehouse could not resist singing cheekily: "Free Blakey, my fella."

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