Paul Simon fetes Graceland with London extravaganza

 

Singer-songwriter Paul Simon celebrated the 25th anniversary of his classic album "Graceland" with an African musical extravaganza in London on Sunday night, any lingering memories of the controversy over its creation in apartheid-era South Africa swept away.

Singer-songwriter Paul Simon celebrated the 25th anniversary of his classic album "Graceland" with an African musical extravaganza in London on Sunday night, any lingering memories of the controversy over its creation in apartheid-era South Africa swept away.

Simon reunited the original Graceland band led by Soweto guitarist Ray Phiri for the Hard Rock Calling festival and brought along Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Zulu acapella group whose original rendering of the song "Homeless" shot them to worldwide fame.

A host of other stars helped out, including Hugh Masekela, the legendary South African jazz trumpeter who was exiled under apartheid, and reggae king Jimmy Cliff.

As the crowd in London's Hyde Park swayed and danced to the chiming guitars, punchy horns and accordians of the township jive, it was hard to imagine such joyous music had ever caused a political storm.

Back in 1985, Nelson Mandela was still in jail and the apartheid system of white minority rule held South Africa's black majority in a vicious grip.

Inspired by a tape of township music, Simon flew from New York to Johannesburg to record tracks with black musicians. But in doing so, he violated a U.N. cultural boycott.

When Graceland was released in 1986, it drew the wrath of many anti-apartheid activists, including the African National Congress. Critics accused Simon of exploiting the musicians and boosting the apartheid government.

But the album sold millions, alerted Western rock fans to South Africa's music and its problems, and revived his flagging career. He eventually made his peace with the ANC and South Africa became a free democratic nation with Mandela's election as president in 1994.

PIONEER

The Hyde Park show opened with a run of songs from Simon's career which served as a reminder that he was a pioneer in embracing music from across the world - the Hispanic rythmns of "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard", the zydeco stomp of Graceland's "That Was Your Mother", samba drums in "The Obvious Child" and the reggae-influenced "Mother and Child Reunion", which he sang with Cliff after the Jamaican had delivered a brace of his own hits.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo came on stage to huge cheers, their sonorous harmonies resonating across the park. Simon joined them for "Homeless" then launched into the Graceland songs.

Many of the crowd, a sizeable portion of whom were young, appeared to be word perfect, singing along to "I Know What I Know" and filling in the horn parts on "Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes."

The show reached an emotional point when Masekela came on. "We negotiated the way to freedom in South Africa and now we ask you to shake some booty for a man who is going to be 94 next week - Nelson Mandela," he said.

He then played his song "Free Nelson Mandela", an anthem that was banned in South Africa at the time.

Simon, now aged 70 and looking somewhat dumpy in a black t-shirt, blue jacket and pork pie hat, at first glance cut an unlikely figure amid the African personalities on stage. But their affection and respect for him was clear and his musical skills were evidently supreme.

The Graceland show wrapped up with romping versions of the title song and the hit "You Can Call Me Al". He returned to play two old Simon and Garfunkel hits, "The Sound of Silence" and "The Boxer", harking back to the early, folky days of his own musical journey.

Among the crowd were Amy Clewes, a London theatre administrator, and her boyfriend Sam Garrett. Both were born in the year of Graceland's release but were nonetheless in its thrall. She had bought the tickets as his birthday present. "It's appeal? It just makes you happy," she said.

Garrett said his parents used to play it in the car on family holidays. He was vaguely aware of the original controversy, but, he said: "Its musical creativity far out weighs its political impact."

Reuters

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project