New York State Poet Laureate Yusef Komunyakaa and “Global Soul” pioneer Tomás Doncker pay tribute to Nelson Mandela in their latest collaboration, “The Only Way,” a song they wrote to commemorate the centennial of Nelson Mandela’s birth.

It has been ten years since the Pulitzer Prize-winning Komunyakaa and Doncker first collaborated on The Mercy Suite, an album which blends the urban, shapeshifting poetry of Komunyakaa with Doncker’s soulful cinematic compositions. The Mercy Suite marked the birth of a new genre of music known as “Black Americana.”  Six years later, Komunyakaa and Doncker joined forces once again to create the critically acclaimed Big Apple Blues, a sonic homage to the city both men call home.  

Since that time, Komunyakaa has been named Poet Laureate of New York State while Doncker has been steadily growing his record label, True Groove. The True Groove team, led by Doncker, has produced and released over 40 albums, presenting an eclectic array of genre-busting artists. Meanwhile, Doncker has continued to tour with his band, the True Groove All-Stars which released the incendiary socially conscious album The Mess We Made in 2015.

Tomás Doncker and Yusuf Komunyakaa

Currently, Komunyakaa and Doncker are adding to their “Black Americana” canon with two new projects slated for release in the Fall of 2018: The Mercy Suite (10th Anniversary Edition), and a new future roots song cycle, The Black Magnolia Project

On the occasion of the centennial celebration of Nelson Mandela’s birth (Mandela brought about the end of South African apartheid from the prison cell where he lived for 25 years) Komunyakaa was moved to think deeply about him: 

“I feel that Nelson Mandela’s motives were beyond personal politics and interests,” the poet said. “He was truly a voice of the people. His vision of peace embraced his negotiating skills, and change grew tenable because of his unflinching love of South Africa. Otherwise, his homeland would have surely ended in a bloodbath of wholesale violence. Nelson Mandela’s contributions as a world citizen have inspired us.”

Komunyakaa then did what does he does best, writing a poem to commemorate the occasion.

A Song for Nelson Mandela

He’s made of good

South African earth

And when he closes his eyes

He can see it all in a prison cell

On Robben Island

That’s the only way

Yes, that’s the only way

This man’s mind works

He can taste manna

If an ounce of honor

In bread and water

And freedom dreams

Mind and body

He’s so alert

Reading the map

Of age-old hurt

That’s the way this man’s mind works

Every time he puts a shoulder

From the other side

Of concrete and mortar


Nelson Mandela



and wise

Our solid mandala  

Love in his eyes

To the shining naked wheel

The brute machine sputters oil

Shadows pivot and walk the wall

No talk of diamonds and gold

And the voice of the people

In ancient light is foretold

The kingdom and the ark            

Is how he folds his arms

And gazes into the dark

Saying, Yes, indeed

My brothers and sisters

Freedom is all we need  

If we all stand up at once

And that’s the only way

This man’s mind works

Komunyakaa sent the poem to Doncker who proceeded to lock himself in his bedroom with his guitar. There, Doncker came up with a folk anthem in the style of Richie Havens and called it “The Only Way.”  According to Doncker, “The Only Way” is ”global soul  in full effect, celebrating one of the most inspiring and important men of all time.” 

Popdose is proud to present the exclusive video premiere of “The Only Way.”

About the Author

Ken Shane

Ken Shane lives in Narragansett, R.I. He is a freelance writer and far and away the oldest Popdose writer. In fact, he may be the oldest writer, period. He wants you to know that he generally does not share his colleagues' love for the music of the '80s, and he does not forgive them for loving it.

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