Before my dad passed away, I had the chance to show him the film and explain that he was the biggest influence in the moulding of the older Mandela. I moulded how Mandela moved on my old man, they have very similar traits.
Tree is the most personal song on this album for me. After spending three weeks in the studio, I knew it was time to write a song that addressed his passing. The perspective is like, "He's gone, man. I wish I could say this to him." And that's how the first lyric came; it was really sort of a love letter to him. It was like, "Someone tell my dad that I'm standing by his tree. Even though we miss him, we're glad that he was set free." He was really ill. My dad was a really proud man. He didn't want to be sick. He didn't want people fussing over him.
I'm hoping that South Africans can relate to this song when it comes to Mandela. Although it's personal for me, a song written to my father, Mandela was like a father to an entire nation.
The album's cover art pays tribute to both men. I realised that I'd never written to my dad, but I felt like it needed to be done. Much of Mandela's communication while he was in prison came from handwritten letters, but they'd often be censored. The authorities would literally just cut out specific words and phrases, similar to what you can see on the album artwork. I found that to be a really interesting and profound way of communicating with the outside world.
When I first came to South Africa, I knew that I had to be humble and prove myself because there were plenty of great South African actors who could've played Nelson Mandela. I felt as if lots of people were looking at me as if to say: "You're not Mandela! Come on, let me see what you've got." I had to be humble and prove that I was capable of playing him.
He's one of the most influential figures in history. This is a man who sat in jail for 27 years, and when he came out he had to be a hero and a leader. He was the first black leader of South Africa and he had to liberate his country. Every great leader in the world since has taken some teaching from Mandela. I'm calling this a character album, because it's really not about me as a performer, it's all about the character I played. Some of the local musicians didn't have any idea who I was. They just wanted to be able to pay tribute to Mandela.
When I arrived in the country, if people would recognised me they'd shout "Stringer Bell!" at me. But now when people recognise me, it's normally "Madiba! Young Madiba!" I've got to say that that's a good feeling!
It seems strange to say it now, but I had a prejudice about South Africa before I got there. I thought I was going to be hated. I thought I was going to hate South Africa, but I ended up falling in love - the people are amazing, the culture is amazing and the music especially is so rich. I wanted to find a way to say "thank you" to everyone in South Africa who made me feel so welcome. So this album represents a beacon for South Africa. I want people to hear it and think, "Wow, South Africa sounds like an interesting place to visit."