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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition