- Posts: 1704
With Paul Simon set to reprise his London Graceland concerts of 25 years ago this April, there seems to be lots of discussion on whether he was morally right to visit South Africa during the making of Graceland in 1986, thus violating the ANC/UN boycott.
Not being old enough at the time to fully understand the outrage that followed his visit, I was wondering whether any OTFers remember these events clearly or participated in the demos during his London visits.
I love Graceland - it's one of the few Paul Simon solo releases that I have any time for. But could it be argued that visiting SA in the mid '80s was in the best interests of black African music, and would the album have sounded half as good if he had've recorded it at home?
Perhaps a compromise could've been reached - maybe recording it in a neighbouring country?
The majority consensus in the struggle movement was that Paul Simon didn't violate the spirit of the boycott. In fact, Graceland was seen as a contribution to the struggle because there was no ambiguity on whose side Simon was. He played no concerts or made any public appearances which the regime could have spun in its favour.
The point of the boycott was to isolate South Africa in terms of public apparances and collaborations which served to legitimise the racist stystem. So when Queen played Sun City, it was a PR coup for the regime, no matter how many black kids Brian May cuddled.
In the 1970s and early '80s, before the boycott, quite a few international acts toured South Africa,people like Percy Sledge and George Benson. Nobody held it agains them (I think they insisted on unsegregated audiences, as did local acts like Juluka). In the late 1960s, The Byrds came to South Africa; one of the reasons Gram Parsons left was because he refused to go to apartheid SA.
If anything, I think, the strugglistas were grateful to Paul Simon for Graceland, because it introduced Afrucan music to the masses. I'm not sure whether Simon cleared going to SA with the ANC before he went, but the absence of even a cautioning note from it suggests that he did.
I recall he came in for a lot of criticism from the NME at the time.
I just read the Guardian piece; turns out he didn't go through the ANC. But the fact that Hugh Masekela, who was more militant than the ANC, played at the Graceland concert Bragg, Weller and Dammers were picketing at (right on!) lends Simon's decision much credibility.
For this increasingly politically aware young teenager, the release of Graceland was a seminal moment- up until Graceland, my knowledge and most people's knowledge of the Townships and Black South African lives were seen through the media prism of massacres, riots and deprivation. For the first time the spirit and creativity of Townships were celebrated and put onto the world stage.
I have never, ever believed that Simon was at fault for breaking any boycott or that he was morally wrong to record in South Africa for a few of the following reasons.
When Simon first had the idea to record with South African musicians he went through the South African CBS intermediary, Hilton Rosenthal. Rosenthal who was responsible for releasing black music locally, approached the South African Black musicians union, who voted in favour of working with Simon, predominantly because they wanted mbanquanga music to reach a world audience rather than through the use of samples by western artists, a case in point being Malcolm McClaren’s unlicensed use of the Boyoyo Boys ‘Puleng’ for his hit ‘Double Dutch’ for which the Boyoyo Boys received neither credit or royalties.
In this way, we can see local musicians using a famous western artist to promote their music rather than Simon exploiting local musicians for his own musical ends.
Before Simon decided to go to South Africa, he consulted with Quincy Jones and Harry Belafonte (who were both close to the players in the South African music scene). Both gave their blessing. And as G Man says above, the fact the militantly anti-apartheid Hugh Masakela agreed to work with Simon speaks volumes.
In Graceland, the local musicians have full co-songwriting credits and throughout the sessions, Simon paid all participants $196.41 per hour, which at the time was three times more than the agreed US musicians union rate for session players. In the subsequent US leg of the Graceland world tour, all proceeds went to various anti-apartheid charities, the United Negro college fund and local charities.
Simon also pointedly refused to play Sun City despite being invited twice.
The legacy of Gracleand was world audience and enthusiasm for mbanquanga and township jive music (itself politically motivated as a response to apartheid) and a positive appreciation for the ingenuity, creativity and spirit of the townships.
Graceland was of mutual benefit to all parties- it became Simon’s highest selling album but also realized the motivations and desires of the South African Black musician’s Union- to put their music on a world stage. It achieved success beyond all hopes and expectations and gave African music its own section in record shops across the world and gave Black South African musicians the platform to tour world wide with their message.
Sun City always seemed an odd thing to me (at the time). I thought the whole point was that Bophuthatswana (sp?) was kind of its own place, not part of apartheid-run South Africa, and things like the concerts and golf tournaments were hugely beneficial, monetarily at least, to the local (black) population. Which is why I was a bit confused by the "I ain't gonna play Sun City" chant of the time.
I appreciate Dammers efforts at making Mandela known in Britain. I sneer at the presumption that he was better qualified to judge the mechanics of the cultural boycott than Hugh Masekela, militant anti-aparteid icon and friend of Stokely Carmichael. For all their political engagement, a trio of white Englishmen protesting against an event endorsed by Hugh Masekela seems a bit ill-advised.
Rogin, the apartheid regime ordered every black African by their ethnicity into independent or semi-autonomous homelands. These were imposed and rejected by the vast minority. There were four independent states: Transkei, Ciskei (both Xhosa in the Eastern Cape), Venda (in the far north-west) and Bophuthatswana. The wiley Gatsha Buthelezi refused statehood for KwaZulu, which gave him room to pretend that he was not a puppet (the violence he fomented against UDF/ANC activists exposed him as another corrupt tyrant).
Anyway, the idea was that no black African (i.e. Bantu-speaker) would be a South African. There woulld only be white South Africans, with coloured (mixed-race) and Indian minorities.
Bop was for the Tswana, a sub-group of the Sotho. It was made of pieces of land dotted in what is now the North-West province, mostly around Mafekeng and near the border to Botswana). It was really a vassal state run by a corrupt tyrant by the name of Lucas Mangope. Sun City brought virtually no benefit to the "citizens" of Bophuthatswana. Most of Sun City's black staff were exploited, and those who made the money were white South Africans.
Having said that, the group that built Sun City, Southern Sun, was rather more progressive than many in apartheid South Africa. But they were nonetheless an apartheid-benefitting outfit.
To be fair, the anti-apartheid movement's rule of thumb - and it's a good one when it comes to campaigns over faraway lands of which we know nothing - was to take their cue from the biggest mass campaign in the country concerned, which in this case was the ANC's general call for a boycott.
Separately from all that, I'm not a big fan of the record at all. The African stuff is good, but I can't be doing with it when your man sings about "Who'll be my role model?" and so on.
I've never really understood "The Myth of Fingerprints". It sounds like a song that is supposed to tell a story, but I can't make it out.
The cultural boycott, ill defined though it was, was aimed to discourage legitimising the apartheid regime. The idea was not that cultural exchange would be banned, but that international acts should not play in South Africa. The cultural boycott was not quite as general or dogmatic as that.
Graceland was discussed at the time, of course. But it was not a problematic issue for most people in the UDF -- which effectively was the ANC inside South Afria, whose members were detained, tortured and assassinated -- because it was not seen as a betrayal of the cultural boycott. It was, in fact, seen by many as a validation of African culture in a medium directed mostly at white listeners. In that way, Graceland was seen by many as a victory against apartheid.
As for the record itself, I'm not a fan at all.
Paul Simon does seem to have a habit for claiming credit for other musicians' work. Martin Carthy was seriously pissed off with Simon for essentially ripping off his arrangement of Scarborough Fair.
I don't know what we should make of the fact that Paul Simon had no qualms about inviting Linda Ronstadt to appear on Graceland. Ronstadt blatantly did breach the cultural boycott by performing at Sun City.
I quite like "The Boy In The Bubble".
Also, I agree with E10 about the boycott. It's all very well G.Man giving a doubtless-accurate nuanced view from inside SA, but outside of SA, nuances were destructive and gave wriggle-room for the likes of Queen.
By the way, a mate of mine once went on tour with The Troggs, and apparently Reg Presley told a great story of when The Troggs played in Sun City (in, I guess, the early 80s).
They were completely ignorant of the Apartheid situation, and when they had a peek at the all-white audience, Reg Presley said (and you have to imagine this said in his yokel accent) "'Ang on a minute, I thought we're in Africa, so 'ow come no-one's black?!"
When the situation was explained to him, the said "What, really?! Well, that's bang out of order!", and The Troggs drove out to a black township the next day and busked a gig on the back of a truck, which he said was the best gig he'd played in his life.
Spearmint Rhino wrote:
This is The Troggs we're talking about.
Even so, it seems more likely that Reg realised that he'd dropped a bollock by going there - either during the visit or afterwards - and played up the ignorance angle as a get out when recounting the story.
He was from Hampshire, not the moon.
Just enter your email address