“Mandinka” by Sinéad O’Connor

This Sinéad O’Connor track is named after a West African people known as the Mandinka. That is to say that as Sinead has put it, the lyrics are about said “tribe”. But classifying the Mandinkas as a tribe is one of several liberties, if you will, that the songstress took in creating this piece, since the Mandinka are actually an entire linguistic group. 

Moreover, she was primarily inspired by Alex Haley’s Roots (1976), which though opening many peoples’ eyes to the intricacies of traditional Mandinka culture is itself history-based fiction.

Or let’s say that if Sinead had written this song in the here and now, when access to an abundance of information is a lot more readily accessible, then she probably would have had more aspects of Mandinka culture upon which to base the lyrics. 

But instead for instance, she starts off the song by referencing that of New Testament era Palestine. But of course, it would be foolish to presume that a singer who takes her craft as seriously as this one actually got two different regions of the world mixed up. Instead, what becomes more obvious is that even if the Mandinka are the inspiration behind this track, they aren’t its subject per se.

Rather, we can postulate that the way O’Connor interprets their history is more focused than the way that a common person would. 

I know “Mandinka”

So when Sinéad asserts that ‘she knows Mandinka’, what she appears to be referring to, in context, is likening said people to someone who has transcended “shame” and “pain”. 

One reasonable way of interpreting such is as her understanding that the Mandinka (being victims of the Transatlantic Slave Trade as made known through Roots) were such that they had to put personal pride aside, if you will, in the name of surviving that harrowing ordeal. 

With that in mind, it may be that the intended message behind the outro is indeed based on the vocalist identifying with the suffering of such people. These were people who were ensnared during what is generally considered to be the cruelest episode of slavery in world history.

Or at least, that’s one way of trying to make sense out of all that’s going on here. It’s obvious that the songstress didn’t go out of her way to make this song easily understandable. So, the listener is forced to do some theorizing on his or her own part.

Lyrics for Sinéad O'Connor's "Mandinka"
Sinéad O'Connor talks about "Mandinka"

When was “Mandinka” released?

“Mandinka” was released as a single on 1 December 1987. It served as the second single from an album titled “The Lion and the Cobra”. This album, which is a product of Ensign Records and Chrysalis Records, holds the distinction of being O’Connor’s debut album. On this same album appears her iconic song “Drink Before the War“. 

Did Sinéad O’Connor write “Mandinka”?

Yes. It was written and produced exclusively by O’Connor. Interesting to note is that O’Connor was just on the verge of turning 21 years old at the time.

Song’s Success

This track broke the top 20 of the UK Singles Chart, replicated the feat on Billboard’s US Dance Club Songs listing. Furthermore, it peaked at number 6 on Sinead’s native Irish Singles Chart. 

Moreover, O’Connor was granted the privilege of performing the track at the 31st Annual Grammy Awards in early 1989.


7 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    The original everything. Before human rights became a humble brag photo opp.

    • chris says:

      Exactly, she was and still is, the real deal. She’s only a few years older than me, but my eyes were glued to her…I had never heard such a strong and confident woman. The on SNL???? THE GUTS SHE HAD! And all the way back then she was calling out the catholic church for being pedophiles. Her son killed himself in Jan 2022 and I can only imagine her pain.

  2. Bri247 says:

    Her beautiful, strong voice still gives me goosebumps! She was only 20 and wasn’t afraid to speak out about equality for all, a woman’s right to choose, war and brought to light what was going on with Catholic priest and this was in 1987! She was/is a powerhouse and full of grace!

    • chris says:

      Right on. She helped empower women at a time no one was doing so. That is what drew me to her and her music. So much confidence and no fear (so we thought..it has come out that that period in her life was the scariest and loneliest.

  3. True to Herself says:

    She was ostracized then for speaking truth about what we now KNOW was and is truth. She was true to herself and her beliefs. She should be given all the respect she should’ve gotten then. I hope she’ll get the rightful apology she deserves … she’s so humble and I think she finds comfort in her staying true to herself above anything else! ❤️

  4. Beautiful Sinead says:

    Sinaed is beyond beautiful. Strong, independent, talented and thoughtful. God bless her.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I was 16 and working in a record store when I first heard “Lion and the Cobra”. It was the best album I had heard in years. Sinead O’Connor stayed true to her music and her truth all those years ago. When she stood up to the power and hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, I worried in that moment not just for her career but for her safety. But I cried too because someone finally said it loudly and clearly. I spent five years in parochial school. My experience was not good. It was the worst time in my life. Sinead O’Connor made me feel less alone that night. God and Goddess bless her. She will always be a hero to me.

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