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'Four! Six! Six! Six! Four!'
It's the 'Lord of the Rings' of music concerts. The cast is stellar, the sets dramatic and the costumes fancy, and it carries on for hours.

It's the 'Lord of the Rings' of music concerts. The cast is stellar, the sets dramatic and the costumes fancy, and it carries on for hours.

This is 46664, the massive Nelson Mandela Aids awareness concert that was staged in Cape Town and broadcast around the globe earlier this year. Now it has been released as a two-disc DVD and a series of three music CDs.

The DVD set comprises four hours of the concert itself, and the CDs have most of that too (except the third CD, which inexplicably leaves out some performances while reshuffling others). It's well recorded, with excellent sound, and should probably ideally be viewed on a smart home entertainment system. But even on a plain old TV screen it draws one in, just as the performers and the crowd seemed to be captivated by the smart lights, magnificent stage design and all that Madiba magic (when he tries to make his big speech, the masses — mostly white, in front of the stage anyway — just do not stop cheering).

The concert kicks off with Beyoncé shaking her booty to her hit 'Crazy in Love', with Mandela looking amused and Oprah Winfrey barely containing her excitement next to him. Then there's Bob Geldof's opening speech, followed by his version of Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song' and, with fellow 46664 musical directors Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen, the lighter-in-the-air 'Say It's Not True', a 'cause” song if ever there was one.

The music then undergoes several broad genre shifts: from club beats (Paul Oakenfold, with the poor Amampondo Drummers all drowned out by his 'Ready Steady Go'), to world music (Baaba Maal's long-winded but beautiful performance, Yusuf Islam spicing up 'Wild World' with Peter Gabriel), to local (Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Bongo Maffin, Johnny Clegg), to pop (Eurythmics, Corrs, Anastacia), to the inevitable all-hands-on-deck finale with, of course, the inevitable Queen medley. And Bono just pops up everywhere.

Kudos to the stage managers and musical directors: the stage changes are seamless, and mostly the next artist on the programme performs at least one track with the previous act, bringing an easy continuity to the proceedings.

There are many memorable moments: Gabriel's 'In Your Eyes' with Youssou N'Dour and Angelique Kidjo; Clegg's 'Asimbonanga', with the audience in tears; Ladysmith Black Mambazo and The Corrs together; Geldof's wild folk ditty 'The Great Song of Indifference', with a Polish accordionist on stage; the Eurythmics and N'Dour doing '7 Seconds'; Bono making everyone cry again with 'Unchained Melody'.

The Soweto Gospel Choir deserves a special mention for its sublime performances with most of the artists, and for its spirited rendition of that nonsensical bit of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' — the part made famous by 'Wayne's World', of course.

On the other hand, the poor audience members were probably glad when they could stop chanting '46664”, and there are a tad too many songs to the cause (thankfully no one remembered to drag out 'We Are the World'). And Chaka Chaka's black outfit embroidered with glittering South African flags was meant as a joke ... right?

Still, 46664 is a milestone, especially because of the many collaborations on stage making old chestnuts into beautiful new songs. The DVD set also has a feature on how 46664 was staged, interviews with musicians and much more — including a fascinating section titled A Minute of Art, comprising short, superb pieces of animated or video art. South Africa's William Kentridge and Berni Searle are there, along with artists from all over the world.