David Byrne, Vusi Mahlasela and Cyro Baptiste Join Paul Simon Under African Skies
Last night, Paul Simon closed out the second part of a month-long celebration of his work at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Known as Under African Skies, the program was the middle chapter of a three-part series and focused exclusively on the world-folk fusion Simon explored on his forward thinking albums Graceland and _ Rhythm of the Saints_ (the other installments in the series explore Simon’s ill-fated The Capeman musical and his American folk songs).
The evening opened with a two song performance by the South African male choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who highlighted the roots of Simon’s world-music explorations. Another South African heavyweight, ATO recording artist Vusi Mahlasela, then took the stage to lead Paul Simon’s band through a take on the infectious ‘Boy In the Bubble.’ Soon after, the evening’s honoree appeared to front his group, before fading into the background to play acoustic guitar while Mahlasela, Brazilian-star Luciana Souza and backup singers Vanessa Jones and Tshidi Manye interpreted some of his most groundbreaking material. Throughout the night, Simon’s already percussion-heavy band was enhanced by
Cyro Baptiste, who spent two years on the road with the singer/songwriter supporting Rhythm of the Saints almost two decades earlier.
On occasion, Simon stepped up to the microphone, but by-and-large offered the spotlight to his guests. At one point, an audience member screamed, ‘I love you Paul,’ to which he joked, ‘I couldn’t agree more,’ before sheepishly admitting, ‘actually, if you heard my internal monologue you’d know it was quite the opposite.’
For many, the evenings highlight arrived near the end of Simon’s two-hour tribute, when David Byrne emerged to supply backup vocals (and show off some choice dance moves) on ‘Born at the Right,’ before taking command of the stage on ‘I Know What I Know’ and a show-closing ‘You Can Call Me Al.’
Though Simon dipped offstage before ‘You Can Call Me Al,’ he shined during his encores: a touching ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’ and a rousing run through ‘Graceland.’
The next installment in Simon’s month-long series, American Tunes, will begin on April 23. Olu Dara, Grizzily Bear, Josh Groban, The Roches and Gillian Welch are among the musicians slated to join Simon for the special program.