Paul Simon performing in London.
Paul Simon performing in London. Keystone/Getty Images
Six months after Graceland was released, Paul Simon and a group of South African musicians embarked on a world tour. They were joined by exiled South Africans Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba, both outside opponents of Apartheid.
In 1985, Paul Simon visited South Africa after hearing some of that country's music. He knew little about South Africa or its musicians, but the result of his trip was an album that some have called the greatest achievement of his career: Graceland.
Recording In Johannesburg
Paul Simon's journey to South Africa began in New York, where he fell in love with a cassette of South African music that a friend had given him. He got in touch with its producer, Hilton Rosenthal, about the possibility of going to South Africa to record. With some trepidation, Simon headed to Johannesburg.
Rosenthal got in touch with as many musicians as he could. Over the course of 10 days, Simon, with help from his longtime engineer Roy Halee, listened to and recorded music in a Johannesburg studio.
In many ways, Simon worked backwards on Graceland. The songwriter, known for his introspective lyrics, recorded the rhythm tracks before he'd written a single word or melody. When he finally did get around to writing the words, they proved a little daunting for bassist Baghiti Khumalo. He was working as a mechanic in Johannesburg when he got the call to play for Simon, who eventually invited him to New York to complete the songs. Khumalo says that he and the other musicians had to figure out how to make room for Simon's lyrics.
Critical And Social Responses
Simon took a lot of flak for traveling to South Africa in 1985. Both the U.N. Committee Against Apartheid and the African National Congress denounced him for violating the cultural boycott. Simon defended himself by saying that he went there on his own, that he wasn't performing and that he wasn't taking money out of the country. For the Johannesburg sessions, he paid the musicians more than American union players would have made, and he shared writers' royalties with some of them. Inside the studio, Simon says there were few problems, apart from the occasional language barrier, but that the racial tensions outside the studio were like nothing he'd ever seen before.
Click the audio link above to hear Paul Simon discuss Graceland, the album that brought the music of South Africa to an audience of countless millions.