Once upon a time it was 1986, and a man named Paul Simon released an album called Graceland, incorporating the sounds of South African township music (specifically the gorgeous voices of Ladysmith Black Mambazo) with the sounds of folky, poppy, white people music – and captivated a nation (including your intrepid reporter, who spent many an evening honking away on his alto saxophone in the basement: “DOOOO DOOT DOOT DOOT. DOOOO DOOT DOOT DOOT!” — I believe I also thought Graceland was some mythical land of African myth for many years.) He had been on a bit of a downswing of late, but this brought it all back. He made a video with Chevy Chase; newly comfortable with tall people, he married Edie Brickell.
24 years later, as African sounds are again finding their way into the pop music of white Americans, and people are again wondering what it all means — and trying to figure out if these bands are ripping off other cultures, or Paul Simon, or both, or neither, or who cares — I thought it would be interesting to reexamine that moment of two dozen years ago, and see how the smart, cynical people at KCMU reacted to this particular album.
“African influences pervade this LP at all aspects. Particularly it focuses upon the ‘township jive’ of South Africa. Some of these artists backing Mr. Simon we’ve heard elsewhere, especially on the ‘Indestructible Beat of Soweto’ comp. Despite the fact that it’s Paul Simon and Warner Bros. it deserves attention because of the African aspect + just plain good music. Los Lobos also appear on a song. [Interesting story…] So does Adrian Belew, Linda Ronstadt + other notables. DL will hopefully show us where the white dots are. This may be the long overdue breakthrough of traditional African (South) into the popular white music scene.* If anything audition it so you know it exists.”
“*That, Scott Brewer, was prophetic.”
Huh. Turns out they liked it!