Prince Ambasa Mandela: From orphan to musical sensation

Nelson Mandela Akello aka Prince Ambasa Mandela on stage in Denmark. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • His mother passed away in 2000 which forced Mandela to move back to Nairobi to live with his brother in Mathare slums.
  • Sometimes he would lack food and couldn't sleep he would go out into the streets to fend for himself.
  • Thanks to a good Samaritan, Mandela finished primary school and joined Jamhuri High School where his love for music soared.

Prince Ambasa Mandela, whose real name is Nelson Mandela Akello, has had a tough life.

Orphaned and impoverished by the age of 10, he was moved from sibling to sibling until he completed high school.

“After years of domestic violence, my father passed away in Nairobi and we moved to Kisumu where my older brothers were working. It was just me and my mother in the house now but she still could not provide for us and my siblings could not help since they only had menial jobs.


"To make matters worse, her the in-laws took away her land because according to them widows are not entitled to own property. Tragedy struck again as mum fell sick and died soon after. I still do not know what killed her."

This happened back in 2000 which forced Mandela to move back to Nairobi to live with his brother in Mathare slums. The situation there was uncomfortable; sometimes he would lack food and couldn't sleep so he would go out into the streets to fend for himself.

He says in the slums, everyone is like family; some will share whatever little food they have and others will even give you a place to sleep. This is what happened when he met Mugo, who knew his mother before they moved to Kisumu.

"I remember regularly sharing meals with Mugo's family and spending a few nights there. They even helped put me through primary school and we would go to church together, which is where I began to sing. Mugo, another friend called Gachigo Kajimbi and I even formed a music group called Wembe Kali."

Mandela was fortunate to finish primary school and join Jamhuri High School. It is here that his love for music soared. “I met a man called George Ndiritu who became like a big brother and a mentor.

He rounded up kids from my neighbourhood and formed a music group known as Sauti Za Kwetu under the Mathare Youth Sports Association. We explored traditional songs and dance, and moved to playing contemporary musical instruments together. The group later changed its name to Sarabi.


Mandela's voice was so good that he became the lead singer of the group which has done tours around Europe even being feted at the Roskilde Festival, Denmark in 2015.

Unfortunately, the group split up which led Mandela to pursue solo projects such as one titled Ona Sasa that will be launched in December 15 at the Alliance Francaise in Nairobi.

Ona Sasa is an extended playlist (EP), a musical recording that contains more tracks than a single, but is usually not qualified as an album. Mandela's EP includes Accident, Nataka Wewe, What Do We Do, Fantastic Love and Hakuna Matata.

His music is socially conscious and addresses social issues such as inequality, police brutality, poverty and corruption. So far, he has done collaborations with Tanzania songbird Vanessa Mdee as well as Kenyan artistes Jhiko Man and Vicky Manyika. For him, the sky is the limit.


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