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‘Part of my Soul’ took Davis closer to Winnie

Published:Monday | April 2, 2018 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke/Gleaner Writer
The cover of ‘Part of My Soul Went with Him’.
Singer Carlene Davis (left), one of the most powerful local singers in the fight for liberty for South African blacks, was singled out for a special meeting by Winnie Mandela (right) on her visit to Jamaica with her husband Nelson on July 21, 1994. Carlene’s two songs ‘Welcome Home’ and ‘Winnie Mandela’ were like anthems during the visit of the Mandelas. At centre is the Portia Simpson, then minister of labour and sports.
Winnie Mandela (second right) after receiving the keys to the city of Kingston from Mayor Marie Atkins (left) during her visit to the island while accompanying her husband, African National Congress Leader Nelson Mandela, on July 24, 1991. Portia Simpson (right), then minister of labour and sports, looks on.
Carlene Davis

Carlene Davis was enjoying a laid-back Easter Monday morning when she learnt that Winnie Mandela had died, and her day changed. "I did not know that she was ailing. It came as a shock," Davis told The Gleaner. "The news sank in, and I was travelling back in time and reflecting on her work and legacy and the impact she had on my life, fighting apartheid and the injustice in South Africa. It is a sad moment," Davis said.

However, the singer and Christian minister can reflect on some very happy moments involving Winnie Mandela, including recording a song of that name after her husband Tommy Cowan carried home the book Part of My Soul Went with Him, about Winnie's experiences married to imprisoned anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, from a 1987 tour. Winnie Mandela begins,

"There's a woman fighting for

freedom down in Africa

In prison is her distinguished

husband Nelson Mandela

Her natural beauty is like the rising sun

In a matter of time both will be gone

So rise up sister, rise to your call

Any day now apartheid's got to fall."

What struck Davis about Part of My Soul Went with Him, the title taken from Winnie speaking about the impact Nelson's imprisonment had on her, was that "married, they became one. She was affected, just like he was." Then, in his absence, Winnie was "a woman speaking on behalf of her people." Reading Part of My Soul Went with Him prepared Davis to record Winnie Mandela.




Davis recorded Welcome Home Mr Mandela in England after Nelson was released. The song was used to welcome the Mandelas into the National Stadium when they visited Jamaica in 1991. In a previous interview with The Gleaner, Cowan recalled 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 on stage, and I said, 'What am I going to do?' Olivia 'Babsy' Grange said, "Rush Carlene to the stage'." She came on with Welcome Home Mr Mandela, and, Cowan said, "everybody stopped and sang the song". It became the theme song for the Mandelas' visit to New York.

After the National Stadium concert, Davis got to meet Winnie Mandela at a function held by the Bureau of Women's Affairs, where Grange and Portia Simpson were present. "She hugged me, and I gave her a copy of Winnie Mandela. She said that the music from Jamaica motivated them and helped them not to give up," Davis said.

With a new album in the making, Davis said that there is a song on it, I Believe, that relates to the lives of women like Winnie Mandela and will "inspire a lot of women". Completing Davis' trio of Mandela songs is Thank You Mr Mandela, produced during his illness and released after he died in December 2013.