When I started looking into the topic cultural appropriation and culture appreciation, my dad told me about an album, released by Paul Simon, that he vividly remembers listening to during his HSC. In the album ‘Graceland’ Paul Simon used South African singers to create a political statement about Apartheid. Around this time, the U.N sanctioned South Africa over their oppression of black people. During this time countries from around the world boycotted playing international sport against all South African teams, like cricket, and rugby, their major sporting codes. There was also a call for musicians around the world to boycott touring or including South African artists also during this time.
Paul Simon on the other hand used black South Africans to create his blockbuster album ‘Graceland’ in 1986. He was first exposed to their magical music through voice, when his friend Heidi Berg gifted him a bootleg cassette tape during a tough time in both his career and personal life. On this cassette tape was “Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits, Volume II — originating from either Ladysmith Black Mambazo or the Boyoyo Boys” (Camacho, 2016), which were later collaborators involved in ‘Graceland’. After an initial visit to South Africa, which was received poorly in many circles for political reasons, Simon completed his album in Abbey Road studios in London, June 1986. Two of the songs, ‘homeless’ and ‘Diamonds on the soles of her shoes’, had heavy collaboration with lady Smith and became focal hits for the album. The track ‘diamonds on the soles of her shoes’ had a large political meaning within its lyrics as it links back to the mining of zulu lands to find diamonds, the exploitation of the black people and the creation of the rich white society leading to a stronger apartheid.
In terms of cultural appropriation, the album Graceland can be seen as both an acceptable collaboration of south African cultural music as way to expose these artists to international stages, or on the other hand, can be seen as another exploitation of white using black culture for financial benefit. However, it is widely accepted that Simon collaborate with these musicians purely to expose their talents and cultural music to the world. In fact, in 1987, Paul Simon produced the group, Ladysmith black mambazo’s 1987 album Shakazulu, which was first released in America not South Africa. He had brought African music to the world, as stated by Jordan Runtagh in the article ‘Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’: 10 things you didn’t know’, “white artist had been incorporating traditionally black music into their work for most of the 20th century. But Graceland was ground-breaking for wearing its influence for all to see”. Simon was determined to produce an album that demonstrated an equal collaboration between both parties. Louise Meinjes, although come across as disagreeing with the album Grace land, agrees that the song “homeless” was clearly “the most collaboratively conceived of the album’s songs” in her article about Paul Simon, South Africa and the Mediation of Musical meaning.
Even though the term cultural appropriation was not a known term in 1986, it is perfectly demonstrated in this ground-breaking album.
Camacho, P. (2016). The Rich History (and Controversy) of Paul Simon’s “Graceland”. [online] Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/all-things-picardy/the-rich-history-and-controversy-of-paul-simons-graceland-a8dff6d8328a [Accessed 30 Aug. 2019].
Meintjes, L. (2019). [online] Available at: https://ey9ff7jb6l-search-serialssolutions-com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/?genre=article&ID=doi:10.2307/852356&issn=00141836&title=Ethnomusicology&volume=34&issue=1&date=19900101&atitle=Paul%20Simon\%27s%20Graceland,%20South%20Africa,%20and%20the%20Mediation%20of%20Musical%20Meaning&spage=37&pages=37-73&sid=EBSCO:JSTOR%20Journals&au=Louise%20Meintjes#? [Accessed 30 Aug. 2019].
Runtagh, J. (2016). Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’: 10 Things You Didn’t Know. [online] Rolling Stone. Available at: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/paul-simons-graceland-10-things-you-didnt-know-105220/ [Accessed 30 Aug. 2019].