There are probably 2 albums that sum up the 80s for me, that I remember listening to for the first time, and thinking that what I was listening to was amazing.
The first one was Michael Jackson’s career-best “Thriller”, complete with the 10 minute film/music video, where MJ was clearly at the height of his powers (apparently the second artist in America who used a synthesizer on his records, after Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark”. Apparently. And The British beat them by about 2 years. Apparently.)
The second album was “Graceland” by Paul Simon. I’d picked up a copy of it from someone or other as it was doing the rounds of the all-boys school I’d endured for 5 long years (strangely enough now, I don’t regret the experience – but that’s another story).
Now this is where I’d better add some geography to the story. I lived in Durban, on the East coast of South Africa, but a very liberal part of South Africa. Everybody had their jobs to do , whether you were African or White European. About 175 miles inland is a town called Ladysmith. The name of the group that Paul Simon collaborated with was Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They were from my home “province”, and had made it big. And they were classed, using the terminology of the day, as being “non-white”. But, all the same, they were famous.
I remember one of my friends, no longer alive, saying to me that I was listening to “black music”. I was wondering whether he’d seen the irony, because he, at the time, was listening to Bob Marley records, because of the reggae craze that was sweeping through South African schools at that time…He was living in a really strict racist province anyway, so I did’nt rise to the bait.
Somehow the music I was listening to seemed to meld together perfectly.
Why am I writing this post, then?
Well, the other night I was watching “Under African Skies”, a documentary to commemorate 25 years since the release of the “Graceland” album, all about how they got together, how they recorded the tracks and what happened afterwards. While I’d always maintain an interest in the first two things, it’s the third that really shocked me.
Of course I knew there was a cultural boycott going on and that the artists had managed to get around the boycott (this is the same boycott that meant that I was living in the only country in the world that wasn’t seeing Live Aid). But the reaction in the UK and the US that was the eye opener.
What? People criticising ol’ Paul for doing what he did. Hey, he did something no-one else was doing. He was paying them well. They were able to travel out of South Africa to record. They did well, bit still Paul Simon made a really good record.
Where I was living the fact that the album was even made meant that no-one had a bad thing to say about it. Except people, who as far as I know, were not in South Africa at the time of the release of the album saying he was exploiting them?! Eh? Nothing of the sort.
The album came out, caused a stir as being really good music, and then went down as a classic album.
I should know. I was in the country at the time…