Next Wednesday, April 4 Hot Docs will close its 2011-2012 Doc Soup season with the screening of Joe Berlinger’s Under African Skies, the winner of the 2012 SXSW Audience Award. The film chronicles both the release and aftermath of Paul Simon’s Graceland and his return to South Africa twenty-five years later.
Graceland itself is one of the most important albums released by an American folk/pop artist for more than just its spot in the top 100 of Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums in the history of forever. Its songs of loneliness and redemption have been adorned by some of the coolest and most prolific names in music, and this but for the political backlash of Simon’s creative pilgrimage to South Africa during the United Nations cultural boycott of the Apartheid-plagued nation late 1980s. It also introduced the male choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo to the world stage.
You might gather from the abundance of links featured in this post that I feel very passionate about the cultural significance of this work. Perhaps it’s the evolution of an artist and his return to the forefront of pop music with the acclaim of the critics, artists, public and Joe Strummer. I like to think it’s how successful Simon was at creating a worldwide community with this record. That songs of isolation and personal strife can reach across so many people speaks to the beauty of Graceland, and in it, Simon is not singing to us, but with us.