Paul Simon- Graceland

Written on the 17th of January 2014

This may be an excuse to procrastinate, but the thing is that this morning I really felt the urge to start a blog. I’ve never really cared about blogs and I can’t recall reading one regularly. This, and the fact that I don’t trust my writing skills (except in certain exams!) make me think that this blog, even if I manage to update it regularly, will be rather lame, but I want to try nonetheless.

I’m not here to write about my everyday life or to transform deep meaning-of-life thoughts into words, I’d rather write about music. I’m sure my friends will appreciate it; not because we have the same taste, rather (often, not always) the opposite. Perhaps writing this will make me stop punishing my friends’ ears with my lectures about Jethro Tull, Alan Stivell, The Alan Parsons Project and so many other bands and artists.

I should say that my taste in music is wide, or at least that’s what I’d like to think. That’s why I may write about rock, blues, folk, jazz, heavy metal… so if there’s anyone who reads the product of my procrastination, you may find something you love one day and you may want to kill me the next time you read this blog. Oh, and I’ll try to write about not so well known bands from time to time.

Finally, this is no expert analysis, don’t expect any kind of music technicalities. This is just for fun, I’ll probably just write my simple opinion about an artist or CD, provide a couple of links and write a few interesting facts, if I know them. I’ll be happy if someone discovers some nice music.

Ok, to business. I won’t start with my favourite band, neither with music I’m listening to very often these days. I find it fitting to start from the beginning, that is, the first artist whose music caught my attention, and that’s Paul Simon. After almost twenty years of listening to it, his album Graceland still sounds like a masterpiece to me. I’m not a big fan of pop music but this is the kind of CD where every song is good and in the right place. Also, funnily enough, it’s apparently the perfect CD for listening in the car. My earliest memories regarding music involve listening to Graceland in the car a bazillion times (without getting tired of it, of course), but not only that: when I uploaded the whole CD on youtube, I received tons of comments saying the same thing.

I’ll start with some background. Graceland was released in August 1986. By that time, Paul Simon had long ago parted ways with Art Garfunkel (I may write about their music together another day). His previous CD had apparently been disappointing (I’ll be honest, I’ve only listened to Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints from Paul Simon) so his career wasn’t at its best. One day he listened to a cassette of a South African Band, The Boyoyo Boys, in which there was an instrumental song called Gumboots. He made his own version of the song, with lyrics; it’s the fourth track. A real mood-lifting song, however no matter how many times I try to sing it in the shower I’m not fast enough! See (hear) why:

What makes this album very special is the African influence. I doubt someone could have imagined Paul Simon doing something like this: African voices and rhythms can be heard in most of the songs. A good example of this is the song Homeless, written by Simon and Joseph Shabalala, founder and musical director of the South African choral group Lady Black Mambazo. The melody for Homeless is a traditional zulu wedding song. As you can see, it’s sung a cappella.

American artists (apart from Simon) can still be heard throughout the CD, such as Linda Ronstadt in the beautiful Under African Skies. However, this song is probably more famous for the live version Paul Simon did with Miriam Makeba (who sadly died in 2008).

Also, Los Lobos claim they wrote the last song of the album, All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints, while Simon doesn’t give them any songwriting credit for it. I personally do not know if it’s true or not, as it’s apparently his word against theirs. The song’s catchy, though.

The album’s so good that I’d put links for all the songs here, but that’s not the point. However, I’d like to highlight one last song, which was my favourite for many years. Paul Simon at his best. Wicked bass lines. And Chevy Chase in the video (yes, as you can see, Paul Simon is a very small man!). The song is You Can Call Me Al and it’s absolutely fantastic.

There’s one last topic I’d like to mention about this album. Graceland was recorded when there was still apartheid in South Africa, and thus an international boycott against it. The fact that Paul Simon recorded part of the CD there and that he did it with the collaboration of many local musicians made the American songwriter face accusations from various anti-apartheid organizations and musicians, which on the other hand gave more publicity. As a consequence, Simon was declared persona non grata by the United Nations. This didn’t really make sense, as he was promoting South African music while not offering any support to the South African government, so in 1987, the year after the CD was released, the United Nations reconsidered its position.

After Graceland, Paul Simon did The Rhythm of the Saints, this time inspired by Brazilian sounds. The album is not bad, but my expectations were too high and it was a big disappointment. Some tunes are really worth listening to, though.

Ok, this is it for today. As you can see, this is a very simple thing done with some very basic researching. But hopefully there’s someone who didn’t know about Graceland, read about it here and liked it. That’s what I’d like to do with this little blog. I’ll try to write again in a week or two, still no idea about which band.

Bonus track: dance with The Boyoyo Boys!


5 thoughts on “Paul Simon- Graceland

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