|Ladysmith Black Mambazo & Paul Simon|
South African rhythms, Americana lyrics and an album that always takes me back to Malaysia, last week marks 30 years since the release of Paul Simon’s Graceland. 30-years-old and 30 years of being a mainstay of virtually every “top 100 albums of all time” list published since.
And the memories for me are alive: the excitement of being woken up at midnight by my parents to watch the Graceland concert on TV that Paul Simon recorded in Zimbabwe. There’s the fact I still can’t hear any one of those songs without thinking of the big yellow Nissan van Mum and Dad used to drive and the road trips we’d take listening to that album.
I knew as a 5-year-old living in Malaysia (my family was there from 1983-1990) that this was special music. The bounce of the African rhythms, the combined playfulness and poetry of the lyrics and the track-after-track strength of the melodies. Some lyrics always stood out: “Losing love is like a window in your heart / everybody sees you’re torn apart,” from the title track is devastating and concise, like so many of Paul’s greatest lyrics.
The harmonies with Linda Ronstadt on Under African Skies always get me, so too when the instruments first kick-in on Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes and this doo-wop / African / secular-gospel hybrid announces itself as a very, very catchy pop song too.
But my favourite moment from this most perfect album is on The Boy In The Bubble. With approximately 45-seconds left on the track, Paul sings for the final time the line, “These are the days of miracle and wonder and don’t cry baby, don’t cry, don’t cry.” From there he cross-between hums and oohs over a home-stretch piece of music that grooves with more South African soul than any other song on the LP. Listen for the dominance of the fretless bass (played by Bakithi Kumalo), the constant of the accordion and the subtlety of the acoustic guitar. It’s hopeful but melancholy and it’s the Malaysian jungle and the rubber plantations and the skyscrapers of KL. It’s a loping soundscape of incredible beauty and it’s the sound of childhood and innocence and a place you can never quite get back to. But every time I hear this album, I get pretty close.