Swedish musician and solidarity organizer
The interview was held by Tor Sellström in Stockholm, 18 March 1997.
Tor Sellström: You were one of the leading Swedish rock artists behind the gala in support of ANC in Gothenburg, Sweden, in November 1985. What was the background to the gala? Who took the initiative?
Tomas Ledin: If I remember correctly, the initiative came from Mikael Wiehe together with Björn Afzelius and Dan Hylander. Dan Hylander was the one who called and asked me if I was interested in a meeting with them and Lindiwe Mabuza, the ANC representative to Sweden. The Swedish rock scene was—in the media anyway—divided between commercial rock n’ roll and alternative, more political rock n’ roll. I was in their eyes in the commercial world, so they wanted to create a bridge. If we were the foundation, we could together get everybody involved. This was the idea.
It was a year or two after some really big concerts in England and the United States, such as the ‘Live Aid’ project initiated by Bob Geldof. There had been a lot of talk in Sweden that something should be done. We should use our influence as artists to both raise money, and awareness about an issue. I think that the idea that we should stage a gala for ANC and against apartheid came from Mikael Wiehe. I was aware of the situation in South Africa, of course, but I did not know in detail what ANC really stood for. I told them that I was quite interested, but that I wanted to do some research so that I really could stand up for the idea. I remember that I called Expressen and spoke to a political journalist who had been to South Africa and really had the knowledge. I realized quite soon that if we were going to make a difference, ANC was the right organization to support.
Tor Sellström: What was significant about this gala was that it was not just for South Africa in general, but for ANC?
Tomas Ledin: Yes. There were, of course, those who said that it was too much to the left and that one should not go along with something so political. But through my talks with this journalist I felt that I had no problem in supporting it. It was for a very humanitarian cause. It was important to create a platform that a lot of artists could support. The strategy was that Mikael Wiehe and I jointly could bring a lot of artists together if we had a platform that was humanitarian.
I think that if you stand up for something, you must know why you are there. Then you can really work for it. My situation at that time was that I had stopped recording, touring and writing. I was very much working behind the scenes as an organizer. It was only towards the end, when everything looked so much fun, that I decided to be one of the artists and perform a couple of songs.
Tor Sellström: You wrote the lead song, ‘Mountains are to be moved’?
Tomas Ledin: Yes, Mikael Wiehe and I wrote it together. The first thing was to get all the artists to the studio and record it. It was quite easy. There were only a few who said that they did not want to participate. I do not think that it was for political reasons, but more for personal artistic reasons.
Tor Sellström: I understand that you did this for free?
Tomas Ledin: I used all my powers to do this for free. We recorded the single in Polar Studios— which we own—so it was not a problem. Also the people who made the cover and the art design worked for free and those who made the record worked for at least lower fees. For the actual concert, we went to EMA—the biggest concert promotor in Scandinavia, which also deals with a lot of the artists—and they said: ‘OK, we will do this for free’. The whole idea was that everybody should work for free, so that we could raise as much money as possible.
Tor Sellström: Do you know how much money you eventually raised?
Tomas Ledin: I think that it was around ten to twelve million Swedish Kronor.
Tor Sellström: Was this money given to ANC without any strings attached?
Tomas Ledin: Yes, it was. A foundation was formed so that all the money could go straight to ANC. What was great was that during the work artists kept calling, wanting to join. More artists were added all the time, which, of course, was good for the spirit of the project.
Tor Sellström: There were also some Danish artists?
Tomas Ledin: Yes, Sanne Salomonsen. I asked Mats Ronander if he wanted to join. They were living together at the time and Sanne said: ‘I want to be there too’.
Tor Sellström: How was the initiative received by the music industry and the press?
Tomas Ledin: It was, of course, discussed in the papers and by some people in the record business. Journalists who write about pop and rock music said that it was impossible: ‘These artists cannot be on the same stage. They stand for different things in attitude, life style and political views, so this concert will not work’. But after the show everybody just loved it, even the journalists.
The concerts in Gothenburg were taped for TV, so we could sell the rights to get more money. We also got people to record the songs, so we could mix them. The problem was that we wanted to release the album the same day, which was impossible, of course. But Dan Hylander and I worked with two engineers around the clock. Twelve hours each and then we changed. We mixed the whole album in 48 hours. Then you have to consider that we taped two whole evenings and that we had to pick the right takes, which was a lot of work. The album was actually in the shops a week later and it sold very well. A couple of years ago, it was also released on CD and it is still selling.
Tor Sellström: After the gala, you and some other Swedish artists—Py Bäckman, Eva Dahlgren and Dan Hylander—were invited by ANC to visit Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe?
Tomas Ledin: I think that it was SIDA that made the invitation and wanted us to go. From what I understand, they wanted us to meet—in the flesh, so to speak—ANC people in Southern Africa. We were not aware of the significance until we came there. We then understood that it was important to keep spirits up. It was in every aspect a fantastic experience. It was also very moving, because we were not aware that what we had done in Sweden had had such an impact.
Tor Sellström: Did you visit the ANC SOMAFCO school in Morogoro, Tanzania?
Tomas Ledin: Yes. It was a strange experience, because we landed in Dar es Salaam and nobody was there to pick us up. It took hours. It was really hot and we wondered what was going on. In the evening, a couple of guys came and presented themselves as being from the ANC. We took our trunks and went into a minibus and went away. We were told that we were going to a hotel in Dar es Salaam to stay one night before going to Morogoro. But instead they drove away from Dar es Salaam. After half an hour we got a little scared: ‘What is going on here?’ Then, suddenly, they stopped the car. I thought: ‘Jesus, are they really ANC people? How do we know? Did they show any documents? No.’ They stopped the car. It was completely black, totally silent and they did not say a thing. We got really scared. Maybe they were South Africans? For a moment, all of us thought that we were going to be taken out of the car, shot and left by the roadside. But then they turned around and said: ‘We are really sorry. We have not arranged for the hotel. We do not have the money. So we are going up the coast, where you can stay really cheap’. And we said: ‘No problem!’
They took us there and said that they were going to come back the following day, but they did not show up. We stayed there for two days. Nobody showed up. It was really difficult with telephones and communications in general. Finally, we managed to call the Swedish embassy. It was on a Saturday and they said that we had to wait until Monday, but we had air tickets for Tuesday, so we had to leave real fast for Morogoro. We said: ‘Well, we are calling Pierre Schori right now and you’d better arrange this, otherwise he will get really upset’. An hour later we had a car. We never called him, of course. We just used his name to get the car.
Then we drove ourselves, without a map or anything, to Morogoro. I was driving and it was a bumpy road, I tell you. The distance was around three hundred kilometres and it was pretty hot. We drove and drove and drove and stopped to buy a coke and things like that on the way. We finally reached Morogoro and asked around for SOMAFCO. Not many people knew about it, but somebody told us: ‘You should take that road. Go down there to the right’. Suddenly there was something over the road and under a tree there was this guy sitting really relaxed with a machine-gun. Then we understood that, okey, this is it. We stayed at SOMAFCO for a couple of days. We were very well received. They really took good care of us.
Tor Sellström: What had happened then? Were they not informed in Dar es Salaam?
Tomas Ledin: There was some mix-up. For us it was just an adventure. At SOMAFCO we stayed in nice rooms. We had dinners and went into classes where they wanted us to talk about the gala. We visited the hospital. They did not have any malaria tablets, so we left everything that we had.
Tor Sellström: From there you went to Zambia?
Tomas Ledin: No, we came to Zambia first. Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Kenya.
Tor Sellström: Were you received by the ANC leadership in Zambia?
Tomas Ledin: Yes, they took very good care of us. They arranged a big party and we went outside Lusaka to visit the ANC farm. I was videotaping during the whole trip. When I came home, I got some help from a guy to put it together. We had a twenty minute documentary on our trip on Swedish television.
Tor Sellström: What did the ANC representatives say about your initiative? Did they appreciate the importance of the gala for the solidarity work in the Scandinavian countries?
Tomas Ledin: Very much so. When we came to Harare, there was a big and very formal dinner. The ANC Chief Representative to Zimbabwe, Reddy Mazimba, attended the dinner. They gave speeches to welcome us. I understood that the speeches were addressed to us, but also very much to all the ANC people who were there, so that they would understand that there were people working somewhere else on the earth for their cause. I felt this throughout our trip.
Tor Sellström: ANC advocated a total cultural boycott of South Africa. The ANC gala was, of course, an alternative to any contacts with South Africa, but do you remember if the boycott was understood and observed by your fellow cultural workers in Sweden? Was this something that you discussed?
Tomas Ledin: Before the gala, I think that a lot of artists, including myself, were aware that there was a boycott, but many of us released records for different areas. You do not really have a clear picture of the countries where they are released. For example, if England picks up and distributes an album you do not always know in what countries England in turn will release it. I think that many artists really did not know, but after the gala everybody was aware of the problem and really checked it up: ‘If this album is going to be released in England, I want to know that it is only for England’. The awareness was really much higher after the ANC gala.
Tor Sellström: After your visit in 1986, there followed an exchange between Scandinavian and Southern African artists?
Tomas Ledin: Yes, the Frontline Rock project, with Mikael Wiehe, Peps Persson, Dan Hylander, Py Bäckman and others. I was supposed to join them, but I could not for some reason that I do not remember. But when they came to Sweden, we did a tour in which I took part. The idea was that there should be different Swedish artists for every concert. I was in Sandviken, my home town. It was fun.
Tor Sellström: After that first involvement with ANC, were you able to follow the events in South Africa? Did you meet Nelson Mandela when he visited Stockholm?
Tomas Ledin: Yes, when he was released, I helped with the organization of the gala in the Stockholm Globe. ANC contacted me and I helped them to get in contact with EMA. We formed a group that organized the gala, with Stellan Skarsgård as master of ceremonies. I did not meet Mandela then, because I was behind the scenes to get things working. He walked by me, I remember. But when he got the Nobel Peace Prize, Mikael Wiehe and I were invited to Oslo and we actually met him. We were invited to his hotel room, which was quite something, to say the least. He was aware of the work we had done.
Mikael and I were invited to Mandela’s presidential inauguration in South Africa. It was really a historical and moving moment. When Mandela was installed—when it actually happened—the sun was moving and a shadow over the place where we were sitting was slowly disappearing, so you really felt the change. For Mikael Wiehe and me it was quite spectacular. I had Sten Andersson to the right of me and a couple of rows above were Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat. From our part of the world, it was Mikael and I. Quincy Jones was there from the US, and I remember Lindiwe Mabuza coming running to us: ‘Tomas and Mikael, you have to come here. You have to meet Quincy’. It was quite something.
Tor Sellström: Was that your first visit to South Africa?
Tomas Ledin: Yes. ANC took really good care of us. We went to some townships, celebrating the victory with the ANC people. We also went to a huge rally outside Johannesburg, where all the religious leaders held a ceremony. There were a hundred thousand people there. It was really moving, because the Jewish leaders, the Catholics, the Hindus, all of them, gave the message that ‘we have to forgive’. Coming from Sweden we were not used to that attitude or to the emotional feeling that was there, so we were really moved. It was fascinating to see that in all the different levels of society the message was ‘we have to forgive’. Even when you opened the newspaper and saw an advertisement for a new Honda car: ‘This is the car for the future, for the new South Africa and we have to forgive’. If you went to get money in a bank, the same thing: ‘This is money for the new South Africa. We have to forgive’.
When we were there, I realized that the church had been extremely important for the change of mind of the people, getting everybody moving in the same direction. The struggle was waged on a political level, on a religious level and also on a business level, from what I understand. That is quite remarkable.
I really fell in love with the country. South Africa is beautiful, but it also has vibrancy. You can feel the dynamics and there is a belief in the future and in change. I returned there six months later, on a holiday trip to Cape Town. I was fascinated, seeing how different groups were looking for new ways of living, finding patterns how to meet and how to live together. Basic things, like how do you behave or act when you go to the beach. Suddenly, there were totally different groups coming to the beach and a lot of funny situations occurred. It was a very exciting time to be there. The vitality is what I remember most.
I went to South Africa with my family. I even brought my parents. It was a great experience for all of us. It was fantastic.
In addition, Dali Tambo got to know that I was in South Africa. I was invited to his TV-show ‘People of the South’ together with Miriam Makeba and Barney Simon, who runs the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. I sang a song in Swedish: ‘Here comes the new time’. It was really a special feeling to sing in Swedish on a South African TV show.