Who would have thought that one artist’s musical curiosity could help change our musical taste and experience?
Making the current rounds of film festivals is a new work that reminds us of one of the great leaps of creativity in music and in politics. This leap, which became a movement, was led by Paul Simon.
At the time, Simon’s visit was extremely controversial. The United Nations had sanctioned a cultural boycott of South Africa as a way to help end the brutality and inhumane South African government rule of apartheid. Many performers refused to go South Africa where they would have to perform for government sanctioned segregated audiences.
Simon, though, chose a different track and a different tactic. By focusing on the artist to artist exchange, Simon not only brought significant attention to the South African music and musicians, he also created a new spark for genuine international art — world music. In fact, it’s fair to ask where the current acceptance and popularity of world music would be without Simon’s original determination and creativity.
In addition to Simon’s reuniting with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Ray Phiri, among others, the film also features Simon sitting down with Dali Tambo, the founder of Artists Against Apartheid, who still believes Simon was wrong to ignore the boycott.
Simon’s point of view, which seems so clear today, was that the cultural boycott was about performing for segregated audiences; not about recording the very artists who were being silenced by a government.
Every now and again, artists lead not just with their art but with their ideas of how to make art.
The new edition of the album comes out on June 5. Thankfully, there are times when art overcomes and overwhelms politics.
Go ahead, politicians, listen and learn.
- Bill Reichblum