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Published: 2012/07/18

Paul Simon
Graceland 25th Anniversary Edition


“That’s really the secret of world music. People are able to listen to each other and make associations and play their own music that sounds like it fits into another culture. That’s how it works and that’s how it worked then.” — Paul Simon on the making of “Graceland”

Stuck in a career lull following a film that flopped and two albums that didn’t excite fans nor critics, fate intervened when Paul Simon heard Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits, Volume II by the Boyoyo Boys. The style inspired him to rethink how the sounds that he grew up with had a kinship with these songs of South African township jive. Guided by this new influence he produced the multiple Grammy-winning, multi-million selling Graceland, a musical trek that extended from Memphis to South Africa back to the Louisiana Bayou and East L.A.

On a mission to combine his stylistic tendencies with those of the African musicians, Simon created a masterwork that transcended the cultural criticisms it attracted. “The Boy in the Bubble” opens the album with ebullient rhythms while his observations of the highs and lows of life in the modern world give the song a depth that’s remains current. His viewpoint is open to the whole wide world but its focus ends up dealing with an individual’s action and inaction as part of it. Many of the tracks including “You Can Call Me Al” find their core from the diamond-sharp bass playing of Bakithi Kumalo and the guitar of Ray Phiri, and in the case of “Homeless,” the mesmerizing voices of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Emphasizing his artistic intentions that music is transnational, Simon molds his western state of mind with these new musical adventures. It’s why the title track can be so complex and ridiculously inviting. Lyrically, he uses Elvis Presley’s resting place as a symbol for finding one’s creative holy grail with backing vocals by the Everly Brothers and a musical background that bounces between continents.

The Bonus Tracks on a second CD could just as well have been included on the first disc. Clocking in under 30 minutes it features demos and alternate versions that are pretty astounding. There is also an audio “Story of ‘Graceland’” which finds Simon discussing the title track. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t do the same with the rest of the album.

This 25th anniversary re-issue of Graceland reminds us of Simon’s triumph as well as the undiscovered talent that contributed to it. Not only did it revive his career and create one for many of the South African musicians but it mainstreamed world music. It comes in vinyl, a single CD with bonus tracks and CD/DVD set. The Deluxe Edition features 2 CDs, 2 DVDs, 80-page book, replica lyric pad and poster.

The acclaimed two-hour documentary, “Under African Skies,” details the album’s creation including the controversy of recording in South Africa despite an artist boycott due to the country’s apartheid policy.

A second DVD, Graceland: the African Concert, chronicles Simon’s performance in Zimbabwe with the South African musicians who played on the album with guests Hugh Masakela and Miriam Makeba. Incorporating material by the American artist with that of his backing band, the show makes its point culturally through the songs and politically with the Makeba joining to sing “N’Kosi Sikeleli Africa” (“God Bless Africa”), the unofficial national anthem of South Africa during its apartheid era.

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