Paul Simon fetes Graceland with London extravaganza

Mon Jul 16, 2012 8:09am EDT
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By Angus MacSwan

LONDON (Reuters) - Singer-songwriter Paul Simon celebrated the 25th anniversary of his classic album "Graceland" with an African musical extravaganza in London on Sunday night, any lingering memories of the controversy over its creation in apartheid-era South Africa swept away.

Simon reunited the original Graceland band led by Soweto guitarist Ray Phiri for the Hard Rock Calling festival and brought along Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Zulu acapella group whose original rendering of the song "Homeless" shot them to worldwide fame.

A host of other stars helped out, including Hugh Masekela, the legendary South African jazz trumpeter who was exiled under apartheid, and reggae king Jimmy Cliff.

As the crowd in London's Hyde Park swayed and danced to the chiming guitars, punchy horns and accordians of the township jive, it was hard to imagine such joyous music had ever caused a political storm.

Back in 1985, Nelson Mandela was still in jail and the apartheid system of white minority rule held South Africa's black majority in a vicious grip.

Inspired by a tape of township music, Simon flew from New York to Johannesburg to record tracks with black musicians. But in doing so, he violated a U.N. cultural boycott.

When Graceland was released in 1986, it drew the wrath of many anti-apartheid activists, including the African National Congress. Critics accused Simon of exploiting the musicians and boosting the apartheid government.

But the album sold millions, alerted Western rock fans to South Africa's music and its problems, and revived his flagging career. He eventually made his peace with the ANC and South Africa became a free democratic nation with Mandela's election as president in 1994.   Continued...