A SONG about Nelson Mandela, by Underberg composer-producer Don Clarke and former Durban lyricist Karl “Kalla” Bremer, has won the grand prize in the 15th annual Great American Song Contest.
It beat compositions by more than 1 600 songwriters from 44 countries to mark the first time an American has not won the contest.
The rousing ballad with gospel overtones, called The Long Walk Is Over, first won the adult contemporary category and was then announced best song overall yesterday.
Clarke and Bremer won $1 000 cash, software and subscriptions to online sites.
Top music industry judges determine the 45 winners who get prizes in 11 categories.
“The Long Walk Is Over is perhaps the most remarkable and beautiful song we’ve discovered in the event’s history,” said contest executive director Steve Cahill.
Clarke said Bremer sent him the lyrics a decade ago.
“I wrote the tune, modified a few lyrics and put together a rough demo which lay around for years. A friend presented it to The Soweto Gospel Choir, who were keen to record it, but only with the blessing of The Nelson Mandela Foundation.
“The foundation told me they could not officially sanction the song, so the choir withdrew.
“We decided to polish the demo and complete the production, using a small Underberg choir I was working with at the time and a few other singers. The song even features children from Underberg Junior School.”
Clarke said The Long Walk Is Over was a tribute to a great man.
“I picked up a lot of flak over the years for writing a tribute to someone who was not yet dead, and most record industry players walked away from it. But I am proud to have been part of this musical tribute to one of the greatest people who ever lived.”
This is not the first time Clarke, who writes most of the music and songs for comedian Leon Schuster’s movies, has won a songwriting contest.
In 1986, his Sanbonani won the first South African Song Competition, then became a hit for PJ Powers.
In 2009 he won a competition to find a song for the 20th anniversary of the Splashy Fen music festival with his composition Hey Na Splashy.
The next year the SABC launched a competition to find a Bafana Bafana song for the 2010 World Cup and out of more than 9 000 entries his Kick It Up! emerged the winner.
Bremer was a Durban anaesthetist when he met Clarke years ago and used his recording studio to have some of his lyrics put to music.
A long partnership has seen these two produce songs for artists such as Laurika Rauch, Danie Niehaus and Kevin Leo.
Now retired and living in Hermanus in the Western Cape, Bremer still does music collaborations with Clarke. - The Mercury