Star returns to African skies

2012-06-22 10:03

Just as we all heave a sigh of relief at the end of the emotionally taxing and exhaustive episode of The Spear, along comes a piece of history that reminds us again of the power of art to provoke.

Some 25 years ago, US superstar Paul Simon came to South Africa to record the landmark Graceland, which would turn out to be one of music’s biggest and most controversial releases, now ranked 71 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

By touring South Africa in the throes of the UN’s cultural boycott on apartheid South Africa he stepped on a few toes, wittingly or unwittingly.

And now, Under African Skies traces his steps on returning to South Africa last year to celebrate 25 years of Graceland and to reunite with his collaborators, most of them black music stars who helped him produce the genre-bending and progressive album.

There are sweet hugs and handshakes between him and Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bakiti Khumalo, Barney Rachabane and Ray Phiri.

The musicians later hook up on stage for a live recording at the SABC’s M1 studios before a a live audience.

The doccie digs a little deeper and opens wounds as Simon meets with Dali Tambo, the founder of Artists Against Apartheid aligned to the ANC at the time of the cultural boycott who opposed Simon’s visit to the country.

The two sit down together for the first time and smoke the peace pipe at Tambo’s Joburg home.

In conversation with Quincy Jones, Simon shows his steely determination as a musician and puts his foot down that as a musician, he should not be a lackey of politicians.

The film features interviews with South Africa sympathisers such as Oprah Winfrey, who lists Graceland as her favourite album of all time; and Diamonds on the Soles of Her Feet, featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo, as her favourite song.

Also weighing in are Harry Belafonte, Sir Paul McCartney and Whoopi Goldberg.

There are also snippets from the original recording of the release in Joburg, the US and the UK; as well as of the Graceland world tour in Zimbabwe, where Simon performs his duet with Miriam Makeba.

Also included is footage of Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s appearance with Simon on Saturday Night Live in the 80s.

There are also the protests and boycotts that damaged Simon’s credibility and credentials.

» Under African Skies is on SABC3 on Saturday at 7.30pm

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