In Honor of Nelson Mandela Day, Shimza Is Playing a Livestream From The Island Where the South African President Was Imprisoned

"I will have the honor of making history through doing what I love," the South African producer says of the event, which will be streamed live via the Billboard Dance Facebook on Saturday, July 18.

Each July 18, the world honors Nelson Mandela on what was the birthday of the late South African President, Nobel Prize winner and global hero.

This year, the international Nelson Mandela Day celebration will be elevated through dance music when South African producer Shimza performs a livestream from Robben Island. Located just off the coast of Cape Town, Robben Island is where Mandela served the last 18 years of his 27 year imprisonment before being elected President of South Africa and working to disassemble the legacy of apartheid, the system of institutionalized racism that had existed in the country since the late 1940s.

During its 30 years of existence beginning in 1961, the island maximum security prison primarily housed convicted criminals and political prisoners including Kgalema Motlantheand and Jacob Zuma — who, like Mandela, would go on to become president of South Africa. Robben Island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that welcomes tens of thousands of visitors a year.

On Saturday, it will also welcome its first-ever DJ livestream, when Shimza performs a set from the island in honor of Nelson Mandela Day. Livestreaming via the Billboard Dance Facebook page beginning at 10 a.m. ET on July 18, this event will raise money for charities including The Kolisi Foundation, which works with underserved communities in South Africa, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Shimza’s own Shimuzic Foundation. Donate to the causes here.

While the show was originally intended to host an audience, due to the pandemic, Shimza will be performing solely for the camera, and the global house heads he will reach through it. The feeling of unity and celebration, however, should still be palpable.

Here, the Johannesburg-based producer talks about this historic performance, how he’ll honor the late president during the show and why playing dance music in this special venue for him represents the very freedom that Mandela fought for.

How did you get permission to do this livestream from Robben Island? I imagine it took awhile to make it happen.

This project has actually been in the pipeline since 2019. The original plan was to have an exclusive show with an intimate number of people in attendance, but due to the pandemic this part of the plan has not been feasible. Now, I have been fortunate enough to get permission from the officials and stakeholders of Robben Island. And this could not have come at a better time, with Nelson Mandela Day being on July 18.

As a South African, what does Robben Island mean to you? Did you visit as a kid? And given its history, what does it mean to you to be able to play there?

I was only able to visit Robben Island in my adult life. I visited early last year, and it was a real eye opener. It dawned on me that we take things for granted, including the level of freedom that our forefathers fought for. The tour guide took us through what the day-to-day experiences were, and it made me appreciate what we have as South Africans even more. Being able to play there means a lot to me as I will be the first artist ever to do so, and will have the honor of making history through doing what I love.

Is your set going to be in any way influenced by the island’s history and by Nelson Mandela himself? 

My set will feature music from a combination of local and international artists. I will be incorporating one of Nelson Mandela’s iconic speeches into my set as a dedication to him and his contribution to our lives. Most of the songs will be unreleased, but will have a sense of deep-rooted culture and African rhythm.

What kind of setup can we expect? From where on the island will you be playing?

I will be playing in the limestone quarry where the prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, had to work during their time of incarceration. It was a place of severe hardship and has a very dark history. Normally, Robben Island visitors aren’t allowed to enter the quarry, so this experience will be extremely emotional.

I will also be playing next to Nelson Mandela’s bulletproof Mercedes that he used during his 1994 election campaign. I will not have an audience for this particular show, as we are in lockdown, but the set will be broadcast on television — and also live on various social media platforms, so that it can be accessed by people all over the world. I really hope to be able to bring some positivity in a difficult time and raise funds for those who need it most.

Dance music is often considered music of celebration and escape. What does it mean to you to play this music on an island that’s been historically known for being a somber place?

Being able to play dance music in a place that is somber symbolizes the freedom that we have acquired. Robben Island is no longer a prison, but a tourist attraction, and is now also known for its scenery and not just for being a prison. Dance music is a vehicle of expression for the people, and I would like to spread the history and importance of the island through the medium of music.

How has Mandela influenced you personally?

Nelson Mandela has left a legacy that has touched not only South Africans but the world at large. He was incarcerated on Robben Island for eighteen years, but during this time all he could think about was helping free his people. His selfless character inspires me to think beyond just myself, and with the little that I can do, give back and create opportunities for those who need them.