This week’s episode in Queen’s ‘The Greatest’ video series marks another extraordinary moment in the band’s history after Brian and Roger answered a call from Nelson Mandela, setting in motion a series of extraordinary gatherings of the world’s biggest music artists to honor Mandela’s life and legacy while promoting awareness of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, established under the identity of 46664 – Mandela’s prison number under which he was held at Cape Town’s Robben Island until 1982. You can watch the episode in full below.
In 2003, a call came through from Nelson Mandela, asking for Queen’s help with a concert for AIDS awareness in Cape Town. But, he wasn’t just asking for them to perform…
Brian May: “We answered the call to Madiba. Nelson Mandela is suddenly on the phone saying ‘can you rescue my concert?’ And we produced it for him, and we went out there and we really didn’t imagine that the by-product would be that we would be re-engaging with an audience.
Something to tell your grandchildren I think. To be in the presence of such greatness, and to be a part of this whole venture, I just feel incredibly privileged.”
The launch of the campaign would be the first 46664 The Concert at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town on 29th November 2003. The concert took place in front of an audience of 40,000 and broadcast around the world via TV, webcast and radio.
Designed to raise awareness of the global HIV pandemic, it was an emotional night, packed with some truly memorable performances as music icons and public figures from around the world including Anastacia, Beyoncé, Bob Geldof, Bono and the Edge, the Eurythmics, Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor, and Oprah Winfrey, shared the stage with many of South Africa’s best known artists, among them Johnny Clegg, Angelique Kidjo, and the Soweto Gospel Choir.
In addition to producing the concert, and appearing as part of the incredible line-up, Brian and Roger both composed new songs, especially for the event. At the concert Queen performed three news songs inspired by Mandela’s appeal – “Say It’s Not True”, “The Call” and “Invincible Hope”, the last track featuring a sample of one of Mandela’s famous speeches.
Coverage of the concert reached more than 2 billion people in 166 countries, making it the most widely distributed media event in history.
Roger Taylor says: “You know, we’re not politicians, we’re just musicians using what we do as a platform to just raise awareness effectively, and if you can get on TV in most of the countries in the world, that’s quite a good way of raising awareness, I think. So this is really a way of pressurising politicians and pharmaceutical companies to make the drugs cheaply, or freely available.”
Brian May adds: “We’ll be looking for a sustained commitment and I think we’re making it ourselves, I mean we certainly feel that we would like in some way to continue this wonderful club that has come together, the 46664 banner if you like, the trademark. And we’d like to continue on, and keep hammering away and make sure this isn’t just a little puff in the wind.”
In the coming years Queen would be involved in further 46664 concerts in Norway, again in South Africa, and with a final UK concert in London’s Hyde Park on 27 June 2008 attended by 46,664 people that both celebrated Nelson Mandela’s ninetieth birthday and formed part of the 46664 concert series – and further keeping Freddie Mercury’s legacy alive by answering the call in the on-going Global fight against the AIDS pandemic.
Queen continue to be inspired by Nelson Mandela and continue the fight against HIV/AIDS through the Mercury Phoenix Trust, the charity set up following the death of Freddie Mercury.