On its 30th anniversary we remember the controversy and the triumphs – from cultural tourism to deep rhythms.
Thirty years ago two things happened.An aging musician, whose last album had bombed and whose taste seemed to belong to the past – dug enthusiastically into a musical form that few Americans knew about and made it almost instantly popular.Musicians associated with it found themselves with healthy international careers and the music became a kind of soundtrack as a pernicious regime weakened and then fell.
Around the same time a wealthy white American man broke a United Nations boycott designed to isolate a brutally racist government.
He recorded an album in a black musical style that thrives overseas but was not known to Americans.
When a huge corporation packaged it for Stateside consumption the white man and his corporation became even richer.
When most people talked about this musical style they discussed the American man who had begun listening to it fairly recently – not the artists who had dedicated their lives to it.
It was a classic example of whitewashing and the ‘white savior’ phenomenon.
Of course these two chronologies really describe the same event: the making of the Paul Simon album ‘Graceland’ – which came out 30 years ago this week.