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Paul Simon’s Amazing Graceland Tour

The world is suddenly dancing to a South African beat, much to the dismay of some antiapartheid activists

Paul Simon, Graceland tourPaul Simon, Graceland tour

Paul Simon with fellow musicians from the Graceland tour at Ahoy in Rotterdam, Netherlands on February 1st 1987.

Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty

Paul Simon was sweating bullets. Woefully under rehearsed, playing together onstage for the very first time, he and his twenty-four-member Graceland ensemble of black South African singers and musicians were about to make their concert debut, not under a sparkling, starlit African sky but amid the dreary concrete and steel of the Ahoy sports arena in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Outside, the furor over Simon’s controversial journey to South Africa — a trip many antiapartheid activists claim was in violation of the United Nations cultural boycott against that country — continued to accelerate. Inside, disaster, it seemed, was just a drumbeat away, with an evening of strange African bop about to be performed in a dismal setting for a sold-out house of white Dutchmen, some of whom surely hoped to hear at least a few of Simon’s old folk-pop hits.

Simon, in the end, did a lot of worrying for nothing. That night, the magic kicked in, and the audience with it. The first heartbeat thump and tingly guitar twang of the party-invitation instrumental “Township Jive” immediately reaffirmed Simon’s faith in the power of mbaqanga — the swinging Soweto sound that first lured him to South Africa two years ago — to bring whites and blacks together in a celebration of racial unity and dancing madness. The crack rhythm section, led by guitarist Ray Phiri, put real spring into Simon’s rhymin’ as the forty-four-year-old singer-songwriter ran through such Graceland numbers as “I Know What I Know” and “You Can Call Me Al” with pride and relish, making only minimal concessions to his past (“The Boxer,” a high-stepping “Mother and Child Reunion,” a zesty reading of an old doo-wop favorite, the Del-Vikings’ 1957 hit “Whispering Bells,” grafted onto the tail end of “Gumboots”).

Special guest star Hugh Masekela, the exiled South African trumpeter, called for the release of imprisoned African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela in his jazz-funk anthem “Bring Him Back Home,” while singer Miriam Makeba, a fellow exile, lamented the suffering and repression in her homeland with a soulful torching of Masekela’s “Soweto Blues.” And the extraordinary ten-man a cappella choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo awed the crowd with its sonorous bass harmonies and lively Afro-Temptations hoofing. Simon and his troupe, in fact, were fueled with so much opening-night nervous energy that they ripped through the Rotterdam show, originally timed to run two and a half hours, in only two hours and five minutes.

“People went wild, just wild,” says Simon, still raving about the February 1st blastoff of the Graceland tour. “We didn’t know what was going to happen. But people went crazy, and we were playing so loud and fast. It was like a dance event, a big rock concert. People fainted, and they got lifted over everyone’s heads.”

“The people would not let us leave the stage,” says Masekela. On the second night in Rotterdam, he says, the audience gave the musicians a standing ovation after their stirring performance of the unofficial African national anthem, “N’Kosi Sikeleli” (“God Bless Africa”). “Then they started singing back to us: ‘oh-wey, oh-wey’ — like a football chant. We didn’t know what it meant, but it lasted about ten minutes. We were in shock. It was amazing.”

Indeed, the past few months have been, as Simon sings on Graceland, “days of miracle and wonder” for him and his South African collaborators. Graceland, the unlikely product of Simon’s encounter with a mysterious cassette of South African mbaqanga during the summer of ’84, is in 6 million homes around the world. (In South Africa, the album has been Number One for nine weeks and has sold 110,000 copies, making it the biggest-selling international release there since Michael Jackson’s Thriller.) The robust bounce and soulful melodicism of township jive, which gave Simon’s brainy lyricism a rhythmic kick lacking in his recent work, has become a daily soundtrack in urban yuppie condos and suburban living rooms and on radio airwaves from Australia to Zimbabwe. Graceland‘s success has also spawned sister releases on Warner Bros, by Hugh Masekela (Tomorrow) and Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Shaka Zulu, produced by Simon). The entire world, it seems, is suddenly moving to a South African beat.

However, these have also been days of hurt and anger for Simon. As a result of his musical field trip to Johannesburg in February 1985, during which he recorded much of Graceland with the cream of South Africa’s black singers and players, he has been publicly censured by the African National Congress and other antiapartheid organizations in the United States and Europe for violating the United Nations cultural boycott of South Africa. Simon’s Graceland shows in England this spring were picketed by antiapartheid protesters, and several prominent English musicians, including Paul Weller of the Style Council, General Public’s Dave Wakeling, protest bard Billy Bragg and Jerry Dammers of the Specials (who co-wrote the U.K. hit “Free Nelson Mandela”) signed a letter to Simon calling for a “complete and heartfelt public apology” for breaching the UN boycott.

Simon, who twice turned down million-dollar offers to play Sun City — the South African entertainment complex located in the black “homeland” of Bophuthatswana — in the past, has never appeared on the UN’s published register of performers who have violated the cultural boycott; earlier this year, he wrote a carefully worded letter to the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid, which monitors the boycott, reiterating his status as “an artist who has refused to perform in South Africa” and pledging “to maintain this position in the context of the UN cultural boycott.” Nevertheless, Simon has been challenged by civic leaders, interviewers and fellow musicians throughout the Graceland tour about his position on the South African government’s racist policies, the lack of overtly political songwriting on Graceland and — in the words of a spokesperson for the South African antiapartheid group the United Democratic Front — “the exploitation of the talents of the African musicians for the furtherance of Simon’s own aims.”

“To go over and play Sun City would be like going over to do a concert in Nazi Germany at the height of the Holocaust,” Simon snaps angrily, obviously weary of the topic. “But what I did was to go over essentially and play to the Jews. That distinction was never made.” The charge of exploiting the South African musicians especially irritates Simon. Not only did he pay the South African musicians on Graceland the equivalent of the triple union scale commanded by New York studio vets, but he is not accepting any payment for his Graceland concert performances to ensure that the two dozen members of his road band get maximum paychecks.

“The show breaks even as long as I don’t get paid,” he explains. “Everybody gets paid and makes his or her money. I’m working essentially for free.”

But for Simon and the South African musicians at his side, the hardest part of withstanding the slings and arrows of antiapartheid outrage is reconciling the volatile criticism that has dogged every step of the tour with the rapturous audience reception that greets the troupe — not just Simon but Masekela, Makeba and especially Ladysmith Black Mambazo — every night. During the two all-too-brief weeks of rehearsal, says Masekela, “we hoped it would be as good onstage as much as we enjoyed playing it. But the first audience was a sea of smiling faces, giving us ovations and encores. It was very uplifting. And it was great to see South Africa’s music get to so many people that would never otherwise have listened to it. A lot of people obviously came just to see Paul Simon. But that he was able to bring so many people to hear my country’s music was wonderful.”

Nowhere was the dance-floor enchantment and implicit spiritual harmony in township jive à la Simon more evident than in the February 14th and 15th Graceland performances in the capital city of Harare, Zimbabwe, nearly a day’s drive from South Africa’s northernmost border. To be sure, Pretoria cast a long shadow of fear over Rufaro Stadium that weekend. “Miriam said, ‘I hope you’re going to check the speakers for bombs,'” Simon says soberly. “When one of your main participants asks if you’re going to check for bombs, you check for bombs.” Security for the shows was provided by the Zimbabwe army.

Yet under a broiling midday sun, with the ninety-plus-degree heat intensified by the hot white television lights (the Zimbabwe shows were videotaped for a Showtime cable special), Simon and company sparked two racially mixed crowds of 20,000 each into joyous fits of shout ‘n’ shimmy. Whites and blacks alike, many of whom journeyed up from South Africa to see the show, bounced in time to the infectious beat of “You Can Call Me Al,” cheered Baghiti Khumalo’s spine-tingling zoom-bass runs in “The Boy in the Bubble” and devoutly sang “N’Kosi Sikeleli” with the Graceland company.

“The sun was extremely radiant,” Simon says with a smile. “On the second day, the sun was so bright that on camera everybody bleached out. There is usually a heavy rain in the middle of each day. But it didn’t rain on either day. And the audiences were very festive. Everyone was in a real good mood.

“It was exciting. That’s why we went to Africa. Because we thought it would be special. Can you imagine what it would be like if we were able to play in South Africa?”

But Graceland guitarist Ray Phiri, the leader of the top Soweto band Stimela, believes that the Zimbabwe shows were a minor victory in a greater battle. “It was the biggest high of my life,” he says. “But I knew my people would love it. It’s more important to me what people outside southern Africa will think, how they will react and what it will mean to them.

“And when I close my eyes and hear them clap for Ladysmith Black Mambazo, it makes me feel very proud of being part of this. It was this Jewish man from New York who made it happen for us. Now the world knows about South African music. People out there who feel the emotion in our music know that we are going through trying times. Our music gives the people hope. It keeps them going on hoping that things will be okay.”

Things, of course, are not okay in south Africa. Even as young pop fans and old Simon and Garfunkel acolytes spin their copies of Graceland at home and Miriam Makeba sings “Soweto Blues” onstage, guns are being fired, blood is being shed, and black men, women and children of all ages are being arrested and detained, often without charge. Internationally, rage is rising over the oppressive measures instituted by the country’s white-minority rulers in the face of increasingly violent black-majority resistance. The solution is clear: South Africa’s apartheid system of government must be abolished. The method, it seems, is not. “As Miriam says, you have to fight the battle all different ways,” says Simon. “Some people have to hit you over the head. Some have to come out and sing beautiful songs. It all contributes to the same thing.”

The African National Congress, which has been especially critical of Simon’s Graceland project, does not agree. “One of the things you should realize is that in South Africa you cannot in any way separate culture from politics, from economics,” says Jeanette Mothobi, a member of the ANC mission to the United Nations, in New York. “All these things, in the context of the South African situation, are closely intertwined.

“It is claimed by some people that this is an artistic endeavor,” she says, referring to the Graceland record and tour. “But we maintain that at the present moment in South Africa you cannot talk about artistic endeavors when people are dying.”

James Victor Gbeho, the Ghanaian ambassador to the United Nations and the chairperson of the Subcommittee on the Implementation of the UN Resolutions and Collaboration with South Africa, believes Simon’s “beautiful songs” argument is hopelessly naive. “Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba have been singing these songs from South African culture for the past twenty-five years,” he says. “How has that changed South Africa? I seriously doubt if it has made any difference.”

Both Gbeho and Mothobi are ardent supporters of the UN cultural boycott of South Africa. In 1962, the UN General Assembly initiated a trade boycott against South Africa. That was supplemented in 1980 by a call for member nations to sever all ties with Pretoria — including diplomatic, cultural, military, nuclear, academic and athletic relations — in an attempt to persuade the government to dismantle apartheid.

“We can put pressure on South Africa by cutting cultural relations,” says Gbeho, who feels Simon’s visit to Johannesburg seriously undermined the UN boycott, no matter how much Graceland has done for the spread of black South African music. “When he goes to South Africa, Paul Simon bows to apartheid. He lives in designated hotels for whites. He spends money the way whites have made it possible to spend money there. The money he spends goes to look after white society, not to the townships. This is one reason why we do not want people to go there.”

Gbeho says there is no official UN position on black South Africans performing outside the country, as Ray Phiri and Ladysmith Black Mambazo are doing on the Graceland tour. But, he continues, “the whole idea of South Africans coming here to sing and therefore change the situation is one we do not think will solve the problem. If you look at the position taken in the recent whites-only election and the subsequent actions of the government there, it does not seem that singing out here makes any difference.”

But Hugh Masekela thinks otherwise. The forty-eight-year-old trumpeter, who left South Africa twenty-seven years ago to accept a scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music, in New York, has been active in both the African and Afro-American musical communities and believes music can make a difference. “One of the things that made the world realize what was happening to African Americans in the U.S. was music,” says Masekela. “At the time, they were being lynched, long before civil rights. Yet Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Miles Davis could make this incredible music in spite of all that. It was through them that you knew about the plight of the people. Even if they didn’t say it, it made you wonder, ‘How can these people play so great and be treated like that?’ There is something to be said for that.”

A staunch defender of Simon’s links with black South African musicians, Masekela believes that Simon is being unfairly compared to other musicians who have gone to South Africa, like Elton John, Chicago and Rod Stewart. Those artists, says Masekela, “were not moved by the music there. But Paul was moved, and he did something about it.” Masekela also feels the public awareness of South African music in the wake of Simon’s Graceland album and tour is a form of liberation in itself. “In doing this, he was addressing the aspirations of the musicians there,” he says. “The part I find hard to understand about this is why these musicians should be deprived of opportunity, the chance of development. Stopping them is a terrible thing to do.”

“A lot of our people who have been in exile for quite a long rime have become so outdated that they don’t know what to do, what we want,” says guitarist Ray Phiri. “They are not giving the people of South Africa a chance to tell their story the way it should be told. If they are saying they are helping South African musicians by keeping them away from the world, how is that help?”

Phiri, who has been an active and successful bandleader, producer and sessionman in South Africa’s black music community for many years, adds that his participation on Graceland has “opened up some gates for me that were not opened before with the white side of South Africa.” That is no small accomplishment in a country where black musicians have been victimized for years by the principally white-run record industry through poor management, inadequate legal advice and exploitative royalty deals. “But in the last two years, I have been exposed more than any other black South African musician, because of Paul Simon.”

The irony of Simon’s predicament is that both Ambassador Gbeho and the ANC’s Mothobi concede that if Simon had recorded the exact same record with the exact same musicians outside of South Africa, Graceland would not be a political issue now. Mothobi adds that Simon’s recording sessions in Johannesburg could have been overlooked if he had written at least one song for the album that directly addressed the issue of apartheid. She cites the example of Little Steven Van Zandt, who wrote “Sun City” as a result of his own musical fact-finding trip to South Africa.

“I would laugh at anybody who says the album has nothing to do with the struggle,” counters Phiri, 40, whose given African name, Chikapa, means “wise protector.” “That is very stupid and naive. When we talk about a song like ‘Homeless,’ it is talking about our very present situation, about our situation as exiles ‘out there,’ homeless, sleeping on the midnight lake. ‘Under African Skies’ is talking about ‘take this child … give her the wings to fly through harmony.’ You don’t get up and say things are bad without giving a solution. I respect people who come up with solutions, not people who come up with big wind that means nothing.”

The very suggestion that his songwriting is politically incorrect makes Simon’s blood boil. “Just a minute, man! Nobody can define this. That’s not the way it is in a free world. I’m still living in a free society, and you guys,” he says, referring to his critics, “want to tell what I should write politically. Well, what are you going to tell your own songwriters when you get into power? Are you gonna tell them what to write?

“The whole thing about whether lyrics are political, whether the songs are political,” he says with a sigh, “it’s almost as if you can’t make a significant contribution unless you make things political. But I think we’ve made more of a contribution than anybody so far, and we didn’t do it that way. We did it another way.”

When Paul Simon first discussed taking Graceland on the road with Hugh Masekela last fall, he was certain of one thing: this would be no ordinary greatest-hits get-down. But outside of that, he had a totally blank slate; he had to figure out how to develop one album’s worth of songs into a full two-and-a-half-hour production that would showcase the sounds on Graceland while also paying tribute to the musicians who inspired it and the suffering people whose spirit permeates the music.

Inspired by the big-band shows of West African bandleaders like Nigeria’s King Sunny Ade and Fela Anikulapo Kuti, he decided to form a large group that would include brass, percussion and a full complement of male and female voices, anchored by the Graceland rhythm section of Ray Phiri, Stimela drummer Isaac Mtshali and Baghiti Khumalo, who plays fretless bass with the South African group Thotha. Hugh Masekela, best known in this country for his late-Sixties instrumental hit “Grazing in the Grass” (based on a Zambian instrumental), and Miriam Makeba, who enjoyed worldwide success in 1967 with “Pata Pata,” were highly appropriate guest stars — prominent South African entertainers living in exile, performing Afro-rooted jazz and blues with a strong political undercurrent The result was a kind of variety show, not unlike the township jazz revues with which Masekela and Makeba first toured South Africa in the Fifties.

Simon is performing all but two of the songs from Graceland on this tour (“That Was Your Mother” was recorded with the Louisiana zydeco band Good Rockin’ Dopsie and the Twisters, “All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints” with the Los Angeles rock band Los Lobos). But of the roughly two dozen songs in the show, only half are Simon’s, and he is only onstage for two or three songs at a time. When he says at the beginning of each concert that “this evening is composed of music from South Africa,” he means it.

“I consider myself to be the producer of the show,” he says. “One of my main contributions is that I conceived the show. In terms of my stage appearance, I’m not the star.”

In fact, no one in the Graceland troupe would deny that the real stars of the show are the nine sweet-singing, smooth-dancing members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the group’s founder and choirmaster, forty-six-year-old Joseph Shabalala. Hugh Masekela says that on opening night in Rotterdam, the Mambazos, who perform without musical accompaniment and sing primarily in Zulu, had no idea how they would be received. “But they practically ran away with the show,” he says. Simon calls Shabalala, the group’s songwriter and lead singer, “an enormous cultural treasure, a cultural gold mine.” Shabalala says, in halting English, “When we start to sing, the people enjoy. They love our music. It soothes them.”

Assuaging pain is an important part of the Zulu choral tradition that gave birth to Ladysmith Black Mambazo. For years, black migrant workers employed in South Africa’s cities and in the country’s gold and diamond mines have garnered in workers’ hostels to sing in amateur competitions called ingoma ebusuku (“night music”). They usually sing for prizes — a blanket, a goat, cash — and the material can range from spirituals to contemporary pop songs. But at the root of the vocalists’ low, melancholy harmonies, soaring falsettos and vigorous vibratos is a poignant sadness, a yearning for the homelands, families and friends they left behind.

Joseph Shabalala knows that feeling very well. As a teenager, he migrated from his home in the township of Ladysmith to the coastal city of Durban, where he sang with a local group called the Highlanders while working in a factory weaving cotton. In the mid-Sixties, after returning to Ladysmith, he formed Ladysmith Black Mambazo with several relatives and members of other families in the township.

“This is a gift from God,” he says during a brief layover on the Graceland tour. “The way we arrange compositions, it all came from God. Because among us, nobody goes to school and learn music. It just came itself, like this. Then I assemble the group, ask them to sing and then teach what I feel.”

What he feels has struck a resonant chord within both black and white South Africans since the release, in 1971, of the group’s debut single, “Unomathemba” (a re-recorded version appears on Shaka Zulu). Every one of the Mambazos’ twenty-four South African albums has gone gold there (25,000 sales), with some of them going double gold (50,000) and platinum (75,000). The Mambazos are reluctant stars, though. Many of the group members do not have phones; recently, when Shabalala had to get the group together for a last-minute appearance on Dutch television, he put out a “calling all Mambazos” notice on local radio. And Shabalala, who lives quietly in the black township of Claremont, outside Durban, with his wife, Nellie, and eight of their nine children, professes little interest in the worldly rewards of pop success.

“I am not in a hurry to go outside and sing for somebody,” he says. “There is something in me, in my veins, that needs music. That’s all. To me, it is good to sit down and sing.”

The Mambazos’ precision vocals — showcased beautifully on two Graceland cuts, the a cappella “Homeless” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” the group’s first recording with a backing band — are certainly enough to take your breath away. Seven basses form an earthy harmonic foundation, reminiscent of American gospel choirs, topped off with one alto and one tenor, and Shabalala leads the group with vibrant melodic strength, often shifting from a calm, almost whispery lullaby to dramatically sustained bleating on a moment’s notice. It is no wonder that the Mambazos’ singing style is called isicatamiya in Zulu, meaning “stalking approach” or “surprise attack.”

Onstage, the Mambazos augment their vocal razzle with physical dazzle — hand and body movements that combine the leaping energy of tribal dancing with fancy Motown-style footwork, all precisely synchronized with the song’s story line. “If you do not understand the song,” Shabalala says, “we can make the song talk with our hands. You can see how it goes by watching us. If I sing, ‘Come back, Nomathemba,’ I do this” — he gestures as if pulling something toward him. “If I say, ‘Nomathemba is far from me,’ I just point. We follow the song with our action.”

But the miracle of Mambazo music is that it possesses an emotional resonance that transcends mere technique and choreography, not to mention language. (Paul Simon was first captivated by Ladysmith Black Mambazo when he saw them on a British television special, Rhythm of Resistance, singing a song in German.) Shabalala, an ordained minister with the pentecostal Church of God of Prophecy, insists he knows nothing of politics, politicians or cultural boycotts. “We sing for everybody,” he says. “Like when you preach, you must preach for everybody. So we just sing, all over. Nobody tells us, ‘You must be on this side.'” Still, in his singing and songwriting, he captures with natural choral majesty not only the anguish of his countrymen but their bravery in the face of horrific repression and their capacity for exhilarating joy.

For example, he says that his lyrics for “Homeless,” which he co-wrote with Simon, are actually based on a kind of Zulu mating ritual. “If you are a young man and you want to marry, you say, ‘I have no house, I have no home, I sleep in the cliff.’ When the people heard this song from my home,” he says, “they love this song very much. Because it is a song of love.” Shabalala admits, though, that lines like “Strong wind destroy our home/Many dead, tonight it could be you” can be applied to the strong wind of apartheid blowing through South Africa.

“Right, the wind destroyed our home. Yes, the wind do that. Many other things like the wind,” he says thoughtfully. “That’s why I say, you can use the song any way you like it.”

“Joseph is a minister and does tend to see the world in these metaphysical ways,” says Simon. But, he adds, “he’s not as apolitical as he says.”

Indeed, Shabalala tells a revealing story about an encounter he and the other Mambazos once had with the police in Johannesburg. “I remember there was a riot there,” he says. “People were fighting, the kids were fighting. But not Black Mambazo. The policeman ask us, ‘Where do you come from?’ I said we come from singing. They said, ‘You are singing while the people are fighting?’ I say, ‘Yes. They are doing their job. I am doing my job.'”

When the final u.s. leg of the Graceland tour ends July 2nd at New York’s Madison Square Garden, it will mark the end of a significant chapter in Paul Simon’s career. But in spite of everything Graceland hath wrought musically, emotionally and politically, pro and con, it leaves plenty of unfinished business in its wake. Just as no one expects Pretoria to dismantle its apartheid system tomorrow, it will be some time before the true extent of Graceland’s effect on international awareness of the South African situation and the black music community there can be measured.

The last round of dates, taking in arenas in major cities like Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta, was scheduled to address at least two outstanding problems. One was the almost complete lack of black attendance at any of the earlier U.S. Graceland shows in Chicago, St. Louis, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. “There were so few shows, really, and they sold out so quickly,” Simon says. “These final concerts came about really because Hugh, Ray Phiri and Miriam said it was a pity that the black community hasn’t gotten to see the show, because they would really get off on seeing it” — although he admits that a major obstacle is the fact that in sales Graceland was, in his words, “a white record.”

Another issue is the South African government’s policy of arresting and detaining black children. One-third of the proceeds from the concluding leg of the Graceland tour will go to Children of Apartheid, a fund set up by the Reverend Allan Boesak, a South African minister, for child detainees. (The rest of the proceeds will be divided between the United Negro College Fund and municipal charities in each city on the itinerary.) “I feel like nobody could be possibly anything but moved by the thought of children in jail,” Simon says, “that everybody could relate to that.”

Simon expects to raise $1.5 million from the eight charity shows. He also hopes the benefit gigs will spark similar projects. “Let the ANC put together a tour,” he says. “It would be great. Let the musicians who play the songs they approve of get out there. I think that’s fantastic.”

Also, he believes Graceland should not be the last word in the dissemination of black South African music. “It will be the end of this chapter with me,” he says of the tour, “but these other bands, like Black Mambazo, will continue to tour.” In fact, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has made a video with Michael Jackson and, in addition to Shaka Zulu, has three albums available in the U.S. on the Shanachie label. Miriam Makeba will cut a new album of African traditional songs with Russ Titelman, who produced Steve Winwood’s Back in the High Life. And Simon has been producing an album by Ray Phiri and Stimela for American release.

“Then,” Simon adds, “there are all the other groups in South Africa. There’s enough now going that they have to come out and keep playing. Other people have to take up the challenge and do this.”

Of course, while the music plays on, apartheid continues. But in listening to the ebullient performances of the South African musicians on Graceland and their remarkable performances on tour, it is hard to believe that the international exposure these players have received, along with the proud spirit inherent in their music, is not a political action in itself.

“I never said there were not strong political implications to what I did,” Simon says. “I just said the music was not overtly political. But the implications of the music certainly are. And I still think it’s the most powerful form of politics, more powerful than saying it right on the money, in which case you’re usually preaching to the converted. People get attracted to the music, and once they hear what’s going on within it, they say, ‘What? They’re doing that to these people?’

“Besides that, a strong artistic community within South Africa is important to ensure freedom of expression. If there is a change in the government or the form of government, there still has to be freedom of expression. The strongest way of ensuring that is to have a thriving community of really powerful, internationally known artists.”

And then there is the effect the Graceland tour has had on a South African like Hugh Masekela, who has not been home in nearly three decades. You’d think listening to and playing with young South African musicians and singers like Ray Phiri and Joseph Shabalala would make him terribly homesick. Quite the contrary.

“I close my eyes,” he says contentedly, “hearing music in that state, and it makes me feel like I’m back home.”

In This Article: Coverwall, Paul Simon


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