Graceland : 25th Anniversary Edition
By David Chiu
Nowadays, Paul Simon’s album Graceland is considered an undisputed classic, and South Africa’s policy of apartheid is ancient history. But it was a much different world back when the album was first released back in 1986. As highlighted in the wonderful new documentary Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey: Under African Skies, the record was initially met with much controversy amid the facts that Simon went to and recorded in South Africa at the time of the UN cultural boycott. As time has shown, and through songwriter’s defense of the music, Graceland proved that Simon’s Western pop sensibilities and the gorgeous and rich rhythms from South Africa, could be fused together to create such vivid sounds. With a talented group of musicians from South Africa, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Los Lobos, Simon crafted a very record that is so ebullient all the way through, from the opening accordion notes of “The Boy In the Bubble,” the country-influenced title track, and the joyous stomp of “I Know What I Know”; “You Can Call Me Al,” the biggest hit of the album, is still iconic and one of Simon’s beloved songs as well as “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.”
The original album is one of the discs on this lavish package that celebrates the album’s 25th anniversary; it also contains another CD of bonus songs of demos and early versions of songs, as well as two previously tracks that were recorded in South Africa in 1985. The aforementioned documentary, Under African Skies, directed by Joe Berlinger, which is also part of this set, features interviews with Simon, engineer Roy Hallee and the African musicians involved in Graceland. It chronicles the making of the record and the climate of apartheid when it was still in place in South Africa before the release of Nelson Mandela. Among the touching aspectsof the film are Simon’s recent return to South Africa and reunion with the South African musicians and his meeting with Dali Tambo of Artists Against Apartheid to talk about the controversy from the perspective of both sides. In the end, this well-made film shows music is a unifying force that goes beyond politics. (The set is also includes another DVD, Graceland: The African Concert, filmed in Zimbabwe in 1987 featuring Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Hugh Masekela and the late singer Miriam Makeba). Given the fact that this work is Simon’s most recognizable outside of Simon and Garfunkel with its amazing music, history and impact, Graceland certainly deserves this full-on deluxe treatment.