Paul Simon Takes Us Back: Under African Skies

Paul Simon Takes Us Back: Under African Skies

Under African Skies is a brilliant, must-see documentary by the renowned filmmaker Joe Berlinger, which was created on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of Paul Simon’s seminal album Graceland. The documentary won the 2012 SXSW Audience Award in the 24 Beats per Second Category and is the only music film to win an Audience Award. Berlinger intertwines both sides of a complex story as Simon returns to South Africa for a reunion concert with the original Graceland musicians, which unearths the turbulent birth of the album.

Paul Simon’s historic Graceland album sold millions of copies and united cultures, yet it also ended up dividing world opinion on the boundaries of art, politics and business. Despite its huge success as a popular fusion of American and African musical styles, Graceland spawned intense political debate. Simon was accused of breaking the United Nations’ cultural boycott of South Africa, which was designed to end apartheid.

While the album went on to be widely celebrated for its revolutionary mix of musical styles and for bringing the extraordinary gifts of under-exposed South African musicians to the forefront, many of the questions Graceland raised in 1986 remain. What is the role of the artist when society is in upheaval? Who does music belong to? Whose rules, if any, should artists play by? Do cultural collaborations matter? And what will be the legacy of Graceland’s indelible songs in a world that has since been politically, and musically, transformed?

Read more about Under African Skies in The New York Times here.

Paul Simon Takes Us Back: Under African Skies

Paul Simon: The Story of Graceland

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The National September 11 Memorial: Paul Simon Performs The Sounds of Silence

The National September 11 Memorial

It was a day of quiet grace and open grief, a time for solemnity, reflection and togetherness. The National September 11 Memorial was commemorated today not with the cutting of a ribbon, but with the ringing of a bell, the same bell that had clanged for the past nine years, calling out the impacts of those four planes, the collapse of those twin towers. Paul Simon performed The Sounds of Silence in front of the families of 9/11 victims at Ground Zero, an appearance that was part of the observances for the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks in New York City. Simon’s performance was described as perhaps the most moving moment of the ceremony.

Remembering 9/11: Paul Simon Performs Sings The Sounds of Silence

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A Golden Memory: Dylan and Simon Sing “The Sound of Silence”

A Golden Memory: Dylan and Simon Sing “The Sound of Silence”

Bob Dylan and Paul Simon have a great deal in common. Each was born in 1941 and they are among the best and most expansive songwriters of our time; both of them have firmly grasped a defining political and intellectual mood.  They emerged together from the 1960’s Greenwich Village folk music scene and have constantly reinvented their sound when their audiences were least expecting it.

This 1969 Portland concert began with Dylan performing a full set.  Everyone in the audience roared each time they heard one of Dylan’s priceless, ageless lyrics.   Dylan’s all grown up and gray now, but when he uttered a familiar iconic line like “Lay lady lay, lay across my big brass bed,” the audience just went mad.  Then he was joined by the legendary Paul Simon for the Simon and Dylan segment.  He and Simon did several memorable duets together, beginning with The Sound of Silence, and then the rest of the set exploded.  Paul Simon has filled us with everything amazing that a songwriter can offer: tenderness, fire, intelligence, and soul.  He is indeed a joy to hear.

Bob Dylan and Paul Simon: The Sound of Silence (Portland, 1969)

Very early in their careers, Simon and Garfunkel played before a huge audience at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival in California.  This is their performance of The Sound of Silence at that concert:

Simon & Garfunkel: Sound Of Silence (The Monterey Pop Festival, 1967)

Viewers may be interested reading some reminiscent thoughts about an early personal friendship with Arthur Garfunkel, as well as about the unusual history of Simon and Garfunkel’s first hit album, Sound of Silence, which can be found here.

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