Idris Elba: Nelson Mandela role inspired album

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Idris Elba has revealed playing Nelson Mandela, in an adaptation of the former South African president's autobiography, inspired his new album.

"I could never express to anybody what it was like to play Nelson Mandela. I just couldn't do it verbally," the Luther star told Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe.

"And then it just occurred to me. The words that I couldn't say, I found a place to say in the music."

The actor's debut album is called mi Mandela.

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Elba started listening to South African music while researching his role in 2013's Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

"I wanted to understand what kind of music he [Mandela] would have been listening to," the 42-year-old said.

"What was happening with the music scene and whether the music carried the weight of apartheid."

After the film wrapped Elba flew back to Johannesburg with musicians including Mr Hudson and Maverick Sabre.

He also worked with local artists such as Nothembi Mkhwebane and vocal harmony group the Mahotella Queens.

"I just fell in love with the music. South African music is just heavyweight and the musicianship is crazy. It just blew me away.

"I didn't have the concept to make the album, I just wanted to come back and work with some bands and do some song writing."

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Born in east London, Elba had a Sierra Leonean father and a mother from Ghana.

The death of his father shortly after he finished filming Mandela was another trigger for his return to South Africa.

"My dad died within seven months of catching cancer. My dad was 'my guy'. He introduced me to the first record I ever played. He introduced me to music.

"After his funeral I just went to South Africa and locked myself in a studio.

"I've never written songs on a constant basis, but here I was literally 24-hours a day, writing, producing, making music."

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'From the soul'

This isn't the first time the Londoner has swapped acting for music.

Before his break on the HBO series The Wire, Elba worked as a DJ in New York. Earlier this year he agreed to a weekly summer DJ residency in Ibiza.

"It's my heart. I'd describe music as my reset button," the actor told Lowe.

"What I'm fascinated by is in a film a scene that looks spectacular is shot and dissected in to a thousand moments and then the editor puts it all together.

"Real music is a live take and what you're actually hearing is the musician's soul."

The actor is now planning a hip hop album based on experiences from his latest filming trip to Ghana.

"The truth is I love music. It comes from the soul."

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