If you haven’t been following this series of posts, a friend of mine nominated me to do an album challenge. “The task is to post once per day for the next 10 days about the top ten albums that have an impact on your life, and to pay it forward by nominating someone else each day to do the same.”
Okay, so I’ll play. But I’m changing the rules to suit me. First of all, I’m not writing about this 10 days in a row. I will write about 10 albums, but only on the occasional “Music Monday”. And I refuse to nominate anyone else, because I try to avoid adding stress to the lives of the people I love. Having said that, if you’re reading this, and would like to take up the challenge, go for it!
In these days of digital streaming, there’s really no need to physically own albums anymore, but there is one that I like to be able to hold in my hands. If I were organized enough to digitally download all my music, I’d still keep this one CD: Paul Simon’s Graceland.
This was a controversial album from the very start. Many said that Simon shouldn’t have broken the South African cultural boycott until Apartheid was finally abolished. And while I do agree that extreme pressure needed to be applied to that outrageous system, I actually think that waking the world up to this country’s culture did a great deal to humanize it for all of us. It’s much harder to accept atrocities visited upon people whom you admire. So exposing this rich culture to the wider world by way of this amazing album hardly prolonged Apartheid. If anything, doing so made the practice all the more horrifying and unacceptable.
Another thing I love about this album is that Simon collaborated with so many different artists to bring it to life. I absolutely adore collaborations, because when you combine the best of two or more people, what you produce is more than 1 + 1. Somehow, the magical math of it all creates something even bigger and better. And that’s the case here.
If it weren’t for this album, I would have never heard of the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, for example, and I admire their work to this day. I had the great privilege to see them in concert several years ago, and it was an evening I will never forget.
This album has a unique bass line, and brings world music, especially African Rock, to center stage. Whether it’s “Gumboots” or “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” or “Graceland” or “Homeless” or perhaps the most famous “You Can Call Me Al”, this music is a love letter to all the culture and artistry that Paul Simon had the pleasure to be inspired by in the mid ‘80’s. I maintain that this was not cultural appropriation. This was a cultural celebration.
Even after listening to it more than 30 years after it came out, it’s like being serenaded by a wonderfully vital and valuable friend. Check it out. I have reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland.
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