Dammers told Uncut
magazine January 2010 the story of the song: "It was a bit like the end of The Specials. When 'Nelson Mandela' came along, the band was falling to pieces. But I had this idea that I knew was really important, like 'Ghost Town
.' so there was that desperation to get it down on tape, before the thing disintegrated completely. I wrote the tune to 'Nelson Mandela' before the lyrics. By that time, especially in London, rock music was dead. It was all electro-pop, hip-hop, jazz or Latin. And also, Joe Hagen had this African club at Gossip's. I was inspired by the spirit and positivity of that African music. I was trying to get in a few Latin rhythms, but also township jazz. It was a very simple melody, three notes: C, A and E. That meant the public could sing it. And then I went to Nelson Mandela's 65th birthday party at Alexandra Palace. I'd never really heard of him, to be honest. Various bands sang about him, particularly Julian Bahula. And that's where I had the idea to put this message into this tune I had hanging around."