Cannes: Nile Rodgers Recalls Why Nelson Mandela Loved "We Are Family" Song

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Nile Rodgers

"[He] could tell by the voices that black girls were singing it, and said that it was so uplifting to hear the white prison guards singing that they were going to 'be a family' with black girls," he said during a Nelson Mandela Foundation gala.

Supermodel Petra Nemcova and singer Nile Rodgers were among those that feted the Nelson Mandela Foundation as Cannes celebrated the legacy of the legendary man with a gala dinner Tuesday night.

Rodgers, who penned the hits such as "Le Freak," "Upside Down" and "Good Times," says it's his "We Are Family" that brought him closer to Mandela.

When the two met at Robert De Niro's Tribeca Grill back in 1990, Mandela announced he was a huge fan of the song. "Someone told him I wrote the song and he flipped out," Rodgers recounted of Mandela, who said he heard the song while in prison. "[He] could tell by the voices that black girls were singing it, and said that it was so uplifting to hear the white prison guards singing that they were going to 'be a family' with black girls. ... I was blown away."

Nemcova was inspired to attend after a chance meeting with Mandela's grandson Ndaba Mandela on Richard Branson's lavish Necker Island back in March. "It was so inspiring to hear about what he is doing with the foundation. He has big shoes to fill — and it's hard if you're living in the shadow of a family member who made such an impact on the world — but he is really passionate, and I really like his message."

Nemcova said the theme fit in perfectly with the film festival: "Cannes is really about creativity. Artists create film and fashion and jewelry, but you can create happiness and positivity as well." 

The dinner, now in its second year, brought in $60,000 for the foundation with an auction of audacious HP laptops tricked out in 18-karat gold and one encrusted with 2 carats of diamonds, as well as an autographed Mandela book.

The foundation aims to create dialogues in the areas of peace-building, democracy and human rights work, as well as promote the day of international humanitarian work marked on Mandela's birthday.

"The work that we do includes ensuring there is less discrimination in the world," said foundation CEO Sello Hatang. "Mandela could dialogue with his enemies to try to build a better world, and we are trying to continue that through our programs." The foundation has also digitized Mandela's prison letters dating back to 1929 so they can be preserved and shared around the world.

Producer Anant Singh, who brought Mandela's bio Long Walk to Freedom to the big screen, emphasized the importance of carrying on his legacy. "He's someone the world loves. He was a remarkable human being and we are celebrating him tonight," he said, adding his hopes that the foundation's annual event can continue to grow, citing the success of Cannes' biggest bash, amfAR, as inspiration. "It's already grown exponentially, and as it continues to grow we hope it becomes significant for his legacy."

Added Singh: "The most important thing is that the foundation is able to perpetuate and to bring to the people of the world, and to young people especially, Mandela's sprit, Mandela's way and Mandela's amazing ability to engage with people from all walks of life."

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