The Apartheid was a political ideology that was backed by the National Party in South Africa. Though the original idea was for it to be a way for races to develop separately in an equal manner, in its implementation it can be more appropriately described as a hierarchy structure where races were grossly unequal. At a time where the rest of the world was starting to desegregate these laws appeared regressive to many other countries internationally, and a lot of backlash and controversy surround the Apartheid. During the 1980s around the same period as when Graceland was released some “reform” was happening to the laws in South Africa, but little actually changed. Also, this time period became the most brutal under the Apartheid because the government wanted to keep their power and ideology. Although Paul Simon found a connection to African inspired music, the influence of the Apartheid in South Africa is not directly referenced in the album Graceland that he wrote. Simon himself states in the article “Paul Simon’s Graceland, South Africa, and the Mediation of Musical Meaning” that he didn’t necessarily seek out the role of humanitarian trying to unite the races in South Africa. Louise Meintjes argues in the article that the power of his collaboration with African artists is impactful enough in combating social normatives that keep interracial and international collaboration from happening in music. However, my critique of this is that artists should have a certain level of responsibility to use their notoriety for social change whenever possible. In class, we discussed what level of responsibility artist should be required to have, if any, when we talked about Coldplay and the Clash. I personally think that Paul Simon could have done more to combat the social climate at the time, and the ambiguity of the album left something to be desired in my opinion. While I understand the limitations of the time, as mentioned by Meintjes, I still feel like the music isn’t inherently political to me. While listening to the music on the album I did hear subtle African influences in the sound. But, I wonder if anyone else in the class felt like the influence wasn’t as impactful as it could have been.
“A History of Apartheid in South Africa.” South African History Online. Accessed November 14, 2019. https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/history-apartheid-south-africa.
Meintjes, Louise. “Paul Simon’s Graceland, South Africa, and the Mediation of Musical Meaning.” Ethnomusicology 34, no. 1 (1990): 37-73. doi:10.2307/852356.