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'Free Nelson Mandela' songwriter signs up to judge Amnesty's Youth Awards

The writer of the iconic tune ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ was today unveiled as the latest judge for Amnesty’s songwriting competition.

The songwriting competition is one of five strands for Amnesty’s inaugural Youth Awards, which are open to 7-21 year-olds in the UK and includes strands on journalism, photography, fundraising, campaigning as well as songwriting.

Jerry Dammers, who was a founder of the cult band The Specials, said:

“My song Free Nelson Mandela was banned in apartheid South Africa, but it was played at football matches, which were the only places where black people were allowed to gather. I guess that meant they knew that people from around the world were on their side.

“The song led to the creation of Artists Against Apartheid, which led to the Wembley Mandela tribute concerts that were broadcast to millions of people around the world. And that shows what can grow from writing a protest song.”

Jerry Dammers then added a call to potential entrants.

“I myself was inspired by another song about Mandela by Julian Bahula which is not so well known. So you never know what effect your song might be having. It’s about passing on the message. So please enter Amnesty’s song competition.”

NME’s deputy news editor, Jenny Stevens, and Dorian Lynskey, author of 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, and regular music writer for the Guardian and GQ, have also been confirmed as judges.

Jenny Stevens said:

“Music is the most powerful tool in raising political awareness so it's vital we support a new generation of songwriters to keep fighting the good fight for equality and justice.”

Dorian Lynskey said:
“As a teenager I became politicised largely by music and music journalism. Good protest songs can express political ideas and emotions like nothing else and I’m delighted to be part of Amnesty’s efforts to inspire young songwriters to try their hand at this challenging and rewarding form.”

Brandon Block, Amnesty UK’s Human Rights Education Officer, added:

“This is a fantastic competition and we hope it will inspire the next generation of songwriters to stand up for human rights.”

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