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Greg Dean Borowsky, Shaun Borowsky and Bongi Duma - Mandela Interview

Mandela is a revolutionary new musical that tells the story of Mandela the man and Mandela the movement. Infused with the rhythms and spirit of South Africa, Mandela shines a light on the South African people’s courageous fight for their liberation. For 27 years, Mandela and his comrades sacrificed their freedom and their families paid the price. It is a story of determination, hope and how the world rallied to free Mandela and his people. The musical is produced in proud partnership with Nandi Mandela, Luvuyo Madasa and the Mandela family. London’s Evening Standard hailed the musical, which ran for a sold-out ten week developmental run at London’s Young Vic as “a storming celebration of the human spirit”. Mandela is currently in further development in New York, with further details to be announced.

Center Stage Records have released the original London cast recording of
Mandela – A New Musical, recorded live at the Young Vic, this is available digitally at and on all digital platforms (

To celebrate the release we sat down with the music and lyric writers Greg Dean BorowskyShaun Borowsky and Bongi Duma to learn more about their work on the show. 

Where did your arts career begin?
Greg: Auditing in a bank! I was doing my final year of accounting training after completing the final board exam to be a Chartered Accountant when I got a cal to sign a record deal from a label in South Africa to whom I had submitted a demo a few weeks prior. I spent the rest of that year in a suit and tie by day and in my slippers making beats in studio by night. Shaun had by then run this wild idea of writing a Mandela musical by me and over the next few years we began experimenting with turning Madiba’s speeches and letters into song and recording demos with some of South Africa’s top artists from the label that I was signed to as a songwriter and producer. 8 years later we presented those demos to the Mandela Family who very graciously embraced our crazy idea of packing up two suitcases and moving to New York to pursue this dream.

How did you approach a career in the arts?
Bongi: Growing up under apartheid in South Africa, art was not something with a career path, especially theatre, therefore we mostly did it for fun and entertainment. After being involved in school/community groups and choirs I discovered that I had an ability to create new music and to tell stories through songs, so I committed more time in the arts and  showcasing my material whenever I got an audience. Later in my career I studied audio engineering and music production to enhance my skills technically, and I have been a cast member of Disney’s The Lion King for 23 years, 3 years with the Hamburg production in Germany, and 20 years with the Broadway production.

What first drew you to this project?
Shaun: We grew up in South Africa, and were young children when the entire country underwent massive societal change during the transition from apartheid to democracy. I was 10 years old when Mandela was released from prison, 14 when he became South Africa’s first democratically elected president, and then his term as President coincided with my final high school and college years. I think being in the country at the time of such seismic shifts, and especially as a young person, left an indelible impression on me during my formative years. My brother and I had also grown up extremely passionate about musical theatre. Years later, Greg visited me while I was living in London, and whenever we were in London together we would cram in seeing as many shows together as possible. We had just been to see a show on the West End, and on our way home on the Tube I turned to Greg and wondered why nobody had done a musical about Mandela and South Africa, and if it could be done, and that’s where the idea first sparked.

Bongi: After the brothers invited me and played me the music, I decided to join firstly because I thought they had done a great job with the music and the book. I also joined because I felt I had a responsibility artistically and as a black South African to represent that voice in the story.

How did you approach writing the music and lyrics for this production?
Greg: At first we experimented with seeing how the story could be musicalised by turning certain moments into song, for example speeches, letters from prison etc. Some of the songs in the show are the exact words as per those sources, unchanged.

It was only once we moved to New York that we began to map out the story of our show specifically, craft the character arcs and fine tune the specific language and lyrics pertaining to each of the characters in the show. Musically we wanted to find that balance of keeping the sound of the world and naturally South African although infused with some dramatic musical theater elements. As a team, we’ve threaded multiple South African languages including Zulu, Xhosa as well as English and Afrikaans into the relevant moments of the show which hopefully give a visceral experience and transport the audience into the heart of South Africa.

What challenges did you face when you’re dealing with such an iconic person?
Shaun: I think part of the challenge when dealing with someone who is so iconic to so many people and had such a truly epic life, is selecting which parts of Mandela’s story to actually include within the confines of a two to two and a half hour musical. It’s also sometimes been challenging when dealing with such a widely beloved and revered figure, to keep the show from tipping into a hagiography, and to ensure we tell Mandela’s story in a way which shows him as an ordinary man, as someone who of course had a remarkable life and did remarkable things, but still was just a normal human being to whom audiences can relate and identify with.

How did working directly with the Mandela family change how you approached the writing?
Shaun: We feel incredibly blessed to have been able to partner with the Mandela family on developing this musical, and their support and personal family insights have truly been invaluable.

That said, the Mandela family’s involvement has not affected how we as writers have approached the actual writing process. One often hears how challenging it can be for writers when an estate is involved and becomes either prescriptive on what should be included, or restrictive on what should not be included, but our experience working with our partners from the Mandela family could not have been less of an issue in this regard - they have never once interfered with the writing process and we are enormously grateful to them for having placed their trust in us and for giving us the freedom that they have given us to do our work as writers on this musical.

The cast of Mandela at the Young Vic. Photo by Helen Murray

How rewarding is it to have your music captured on an album that will be around forever?
Greg: We feel incredibly lucky to have this truly special London cast on record forever. We were overwhelmed by the number of audience members asking the box office for the soundtrack every night after the performances so we felt it was only right to have those performances recorded and released. Not many shows get to immortalise their first production in this way so we are extremely grateful to have this on record as we continue to develop the show for further iterations.

Hopefully audiences can now be familiar with the songs when they see the show in the future!

If you could have asked Nelson Mandela one question, what would you have asked him?
Shaun: Having to choose only one question would be incredibly difficult! But I’d probably want to know if, looking back on his life, he had any regrets or would have done anything differently if given the chance. So much is known and available out there regarding his achievements, his triumphs and successes, but as a dramatist I’d be fascinated to hear from him first hand what he also considers his flaws, his failures and regrets.

If you were stranded on a desert island but you could have 3 musical theatre soundtracks with you, which would you choose?
Greg: Between the three of us it would have to be some mega mix tape of soul, R&B, musical theatre meets amapiano! Musical Theatre only though, it would have to be ‘Ragtime’ ‘Rent’ and a ‘Best Of Sondheim (double album) compilation’!

If you could have dinner with 3 famous people, who would you invite and why?
Bongi: Winnie Mandela - who sacrificed and gave so much to the struggle and the movement that led to the liberation of South Africa, and fought for and alongside other comrades as a woman and a mother.

Obama - who I’d want to ask “Do you think you did enough to balance the scales among different races knowing that what happens in US democracy often trickles down to all other democratically ruled countries around the world. If you were given another chance, what would you do differently?”

Tyler Perry - who I’d want to ask “What keeps you inspired? Has your success changed the way you view the tv/film industry and Hollywood?”

What keeps you inspired?
Bongi: Listening to different styles of music from different countries and learning about their struggles and victories in their social and personal lives.

What would you hope someone takes away from listening to the soundtrack?
Greg: We hope anyone listening to the soundtrack will be transported into the world of the show and feel the hope and inspiration of this story as well as the urge to be in the theater with us for the next productions!

The original London cast recording of Mandela – A New Musical, recorded live at the Young Vic, is now available digitally at and on all digital platforms (

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