Word is power - Carlene Davis, Tommy Cowan remember the impact of 'Welcome Home Mandela'
Melville Cooke, Gleaner Writer
It was appropriate that Tommy Cowan and Carlene Davis both had prominent roles on the concert for Nelson and Winnie Mandela at the National Stadium, Kingston, on Wednesday, July 24, 1991. As a songwriter-singer pair, they had celebrated Winnie Mandela's fortitude while her husband was in prison with Winnie Mandela; then, after he was released, they again combined to do Welcome Home Mandela.
Cowan remembers that Davis was brought on in a moment of crisis, as the police and members of the crowd clashed.
"The crowd started to jump the fence and it looked like the place was going to break out in a riot," Cowan said.
"I was onstage and I said what am I going to do?" Cowan said. And Olivia 'Babsy' Grange said "rush Carlene to the stage".
She came on with Welcome Home Mandela and, Cowan said, "everybody stopped and sang the song".
Davis remembers that the recording of Welcome Home Mandela was played when the Mandelas entered the National Stadium and, when she was invited to the platform to do the song live, a number of other musicians joined in. "It was quite an experience," Davis said.
However, her interaction with Winnie Mandela extended beyond the concert, as Davis was invited to a function at the Bureau of Women's Affairs, when current Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller was in charge of that portfolio. "They made sure I was a part of a group of women who could have sat with Winnie. It was a special time for me," Davis said.
There also seemed to be a surreal element to the experience, as Davis said while she and Cowan were doing material about Mandela, it was not expected that he would be free in their lifetime and apartheid would end.
"You thought you were going to die and maybe your children's children would see it," Davis said.
Welcome Home Mandela was written when they were in England and heard that Mandela had been freed.
Cowan and Davis were about to go into a studio session and, along with Tony Richards, quickly put the song together.
Welcome Home Mandela was soon used on the other side of the Atlantic. "We were in New York and the song was used for Mandela's tour," Davis said.
"Here we were, writing songs because we felt the passion and the hurt. We got up and took a stand as Jamaican people and the music industry. We were able to live to see the fulfilment of what we believed," Davis said. "The word of God says word is power."