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Sundance London: Paul Simon, Unrepentant After All These Years

Festivals
by David Gritten
April 27, 2012 4:24 PM
2 Comments
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'Under African Skies'


Paul Simon made a virtually unheralded appearance at the Sundance Film and Music Festival on its opening day in London to answer audience questions about the documentary film "Under African Skies," which follows his return to South Africa 25 years after he travelled there to record it with local musicians, thus breaking a UN-sanctioned cultural boycott aimed at bringing down apartheid.

Simon was at the centre of massive controversy back then, though the argument was a complex one: "Graceland" was and is widely considered one of the greatest albums in modern music history. And it provided a massive boost and a global profile for the South African musicians who joined with Simon to record it – the remarkable vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the phenomenal guitarist Ray Phiri.

"Under African Skies," by American director Joe Berlinger, gives a good airing to both sides of the argument. It shows warm-hearted scenes of Simon reuniting with his fellow "Graceland" musicians and rehearsing with them for a forthcoming reunion tour. But Berlinger also arranged for Simon to meet Dali Tambo, founder of Artists Against Apartheid and son of the late African National Congress (ANC) president Oliver Tambo. He is still convinced Simon was wrong to break the cultural boycott – and tells him so on camera.

A quarter of a century on, the argument still rumbles – as Simon discovered when he appeared after the rapturously received screening of "Under African Skies." He was asked whether he regretted his actions in visiting South Africa and recording the album there.

“I have no regrets – because there’s a happy outcome,” Simon said. “And the musicians wanted to get their music out there in the world.”

Harry Belafonte was interviewed for the film and says he advised Simon to contact the ANC before he visited South Africa to inform them of his plans for "Graceland." “But the ANC is a political party,” Simon told the Sundance audience. “Part of their agenda was – you have to ask us. My point was – why not ask musicians what they think about the cultural boycott?

“Political parties have an agenda – they want to gain power and stay in power. (The ANC) stood for the right thing, but they wanted to have the power of the government.”

The audience member who questioned Simon most closely did not identify himself. But he is Jon Blair, a South African-born film director based in Britain. His 1983 film about Oskar Schindler was acknowledged by Steve Spielberg as source material for his Schindler’s List a decade later. And in 1996 Blair won a best documentary Oscar for his film Anne Frank Remembered.   

At Sundance London, Blair, who made a point of stressing he had observed the cultural boycott,  challenged Simon to say if he would have done anything different. Again, Simon barely budged. “I did not vigorously pursue somebody telling me not to go,” he conceded. “But all I heard was ‘yes, come and play with us.’ The ANC did not confer with their own musicians.”

Simon also insisted that his memory of conversations with Belafonte about his South African visit differed from Belafonte’s own.

However Simon’s view that the "Graceland" album was ‘a happy outcome’ seemed to coincide with the views of the majority of the audience. And though it’s hard to view the controversy entirely as water under the bridge, it’s significant that "Under African Skies" ends with Simon apologising to Dali Tambo for any hurt he might have caused, Tambo expresses his admiration and love for Simon – and then the two men hug.
 

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2 Comments

  • CLAUDINE FOURIE | September 3, 2013 6:05 PMReply

    NOT ONLY DID I GET THE PREVIOUS SOUTH AFRICAN GOVERNMENT TO RECIND ALL OF THE SAID GREAT BRITISH- ANGLO- AMERICAN- DUTCH- GERMAN APARTHEID LAWS NON- VIOLENTLY BY MY ACTIONS OF IGNORING THEM AND MY POLITICAL LETTERS TO THE GOVERNMENT OFF WHIC THEIR RACIST WITS UNIVERSITY HAD ALSO DESTROYED AND I HAVE HAD NON- STOP THEFTS BY THEM TOO, SINCE 1989, WHEN THEY CAME AND RESIDED ILLEGALLY NEXT DOOR TO ME/ US TO- DATE AND STILL NOT COMPENSATED ME TOO FOR THE THEFTS OF MY ONE GRANDMOTHER RS. JOHANNA, MARTHINA FOURIE MARRA's OVER 300 PROPERTIES IN 1958- 1962, BECAUSE SHE WAS OF MIXED NATIONALITY, APARTHEIDLY SO AND THEY NEVER COMPENSATED HER AND MY ONE GRANDFATHER MR. ALBERT JOSEPH THOMAS, MY ITALIAN STEP- GRANDFATHER MR. SIMON PEDRO MARRA, AND MY ONE GRAND UNCLE GEORGE THOMAS's PROPERTIES TOO, THEN AND TO MYSELF NOW EITHER SINCE 1990 ALREADY BUT MADE THEMSELVES ALL MULTI- MILLIONAIRES AND BILLIONAIRES SINCE, UNDERWORKINGLY AND OVERPAID, WHILE RUINING MY COUNTRIES,... AND I WAS ALSO THE VERY PERSON WHO HAD TOLD THEM IN EARLY 1989 TO RELEASE NELSON MANDELA BECAUSE,... AND THE THEN MINISTER I HAD WRITTEN TO, WENT ON NATIONAL SABC TV 8pm NEWS A COUPLE OF SDAYS LATER TO ANNOUNCE THAT THEY WERE NOW GOING TO HAVE DISCUSSIONS TO RELEASE HIM - BUT I DISCOVERED IN 2004 ND NOW AGAIN IN 2013 ONLY, THAT THEY AND THE PREVIOUS BRITISH- ANGLO- AMERICANLY CONTROLLED GOVERNMENT AND BRITISH REGIMES HAD CONJOURED THEIR LIE THAT MAGGIE THATCHER HAD SAID SO - HAAAAHAAAAHAAA THEN WHY DID SHE AND THEY THEN NOT DO SO PREVIOUSLY, I ASK ? I KEPT QUIET ABOUT IT ALL AS I AM A SHY PERSON MY NATURE, BUT I HAVE NOW HAD ENOUGH OF ALL THESE GROSS BRITISH ANGLO- AMERICAN APARTHEID CONTROLLED LIES TOO, WHICH WE ARE FED SINCE CENTURIES AGO ALREADY AS I HAD ALSO DISCOVERED IN THE GOVERNMENT ARCHIVES AND BOOKS TOO, SINCE 1993 -

  • CLAUDINE FOURIE | September 3, 2013 5:47 PMReply

    CONGRATULATIONS MR. PAUL SIMON - YOU DID THE RIGHT THING, AS THESE USELESS, JEALOUS EVIL CHARACTERS OF GROSS CRIMES AND TERRORISM SINCE THE 1950's TO- DATE, DID/ DO THE VERY SAME TO MYSELF TOO, IN ORDER TO ELEVATE THEMSELVES EVE MORE THAN WHAT THEY AND BRITIAN ANGLO- AMERICANS/ CORPORATIONS etc WHO ALSO OWE ME AND I HAD WORKED ON MOST OF THEIR PROJECTS AS WELL, AT OVER 60 BRITISH APARTHEID CORPORATIONS AND COMPANIES , WHERE THEY ALSO ABUSED ME GROTESQUELY, WHEREAS THEIR FELLOW ANC & Co's OF GROSS CRIMINALITY AND TERRORISM TOO OF SINCE THE 1950's TO- DATE AND NO WORLDWIDE AS WELL, DID NO WORK THEN AND NOW TOO, BUT THEY ARE SUDDENLY ELEVATED AND OVER- ENRICHED AS WELL, AND I HAVE STILL NOT BEEN PAID MY DESERVED AND DUES YET BY THEM ALL,...

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