Music has always played an important role in my travels, usually serving as a sensory memento.  I am often surprised how weeks, months and even years later a cetain song can cause me to recall a spectacular New Year’s Eve in Paris or an uncomfortable bus ride from my grandmother’s house back to college at the end of Thanksgiving weekend.

Sometimes, however, the music starts before the trip, as was the case with my recent trip to South Africa. A handful of songs were in continuous rotation in my head as I planned, prepped and packed for the trip, and now comprise what has become the soundtrack for South Africa trip.

1. Free Nelson Mandela – Mandela is always the first association I make with South Africa and with him,  the melodic chorus of this protest song by the English ska band The Specials usually comes to mind.  While watching my daughters play in front of Mandela’s statute at Nobel Square in Cape Town,  I got misty-eyed, as the chorus played seemingly on repeat in my head: “Free Nelson Mandela”. He most certainly is.

2. I Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City–  This song kind of got lumped in and lost among the other charity songs of the mid-1980’s, like “We Are the World” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas”.  However, the bandana’d Steve Van Zandt chanting “I. I. I. I ain’t gonna play Sun City”, and seeing so many artists lend their talents to a protest song that, in the end could have a serious affect on their earnings, left an impression on me and though apartheid has been abolished, I still think of this song when I think of South Africa.

3. Hotter Than July – In this protest song from 1980, Stevie makes a reference to the political situation in Zimbabwe, which, I realize, though in southern Africa, is not South Africa. But since there was also so much political unrest in South Africa at the time (see previous song references), I took a little creative license and added it to the mix. And when you consider that during my visit to South Africa in January – their summer – it actually was hotter than July, I think the song can get a pass.

4. This Time For Africa – Miss P and Miss V apparently have their own South Africa soundtrack in which Shakira features prominently.  Thanks to their constant singing of the song’s chorus, I can’t get it out of my head. And with the country still exuding so much excitement and pride from hosting the 2010 World Cup,  I think it has earned a coveted spot on this list .  Waka, waka.

5. Africa – Like the previous selection, this song also kinda forced its way onto my mental soundtrack.  I’ll admit, I’ve always loved this song and it was THE song for our Kenya and Tanzania safari last year, as it mentions Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti. But as we were walking along the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town, we heard a wedding singer perform the song and will thus be forever wedded in my mind with South Africa.

6. The World Is A Ghetto – While some parts of South Africa definitely qualify, I’m not calling it a ghetto, so calm down and read on.  Originally performed by the group War, the version of the song that makes my soundtrack is a cover done by Will Downing in 1990 and features a guitar solo by the South African artist Jonathan Butler.  Despite the fact that I love Will Downing and the silky smoothness of his voice, Jonathan Butler’s guitar solo and scat absolutely makes this song for me, giving the song the South African angle that qualifies it for the list.

 What song or songs that inspire or remind you of a particular place? Please share.