Paul Simon’s Graceland 25th anniversary celebrated with new documentary film and special edition release

Posted on 19 January 2012
By Bert Bernstein
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A new documentary about Graceland Paul Simon: Under African Skies, from Two-Time Emmy and Peabody Award Winning Filmmaker Joe Berlinger, is premiering at the US Sundance Film Festival.

New Editions of Paul Simon’s landmark album including A Special Anniversary Box Set Featuring Original Album, Bonus Tracks & Director’s Cut of Under African Skies Documentary are out in May.

Under African Skies is the new Joe Berlinger-directed documentary chronicling the creation and lasting influence of Paul Simon’s groundbreaking Graceland, will debut at the 2012 US Sundance Film Festival, kicking off a year long celebration commemorating the 25th anniversary of Simon’s musical and cultural achievement.

Following its US Sundance premiere, Under African Skies, one of the year’s most eagerly anticipated documentaries, is slated for international film festival screenings and will be shown on a major network in the UK, details to be announced shortly.

The story of the making of Graceland, and the controversy created when Simon went to South Africa to record with local artists, is told in Under African Skies, the new full-length documentary from two-time Emmy and Peabody Award winning filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Brother’s Keeper, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, the West Memphis Three/Paradise Lost trilogy) and A&E IndieFilms.

Coming this spring, Legacy Recordings/Sony Commercial Music Group will release a Graceland 25th anniversary commemorative edition deluxe collector’s box set as well as a special two-disc set, each featuring the original album with bonus tracks and the director’s cut of Under African Skies.

Under African Skies travels with Paul Simon back to South Africa 25 years after his first visit. Simon revisits the making of the record, surveying from the vantage of history the turbulence and controversy surrounding the album’s genesis.

His artistic decision to collaborate with African musicians created a new world musical fusion, combining American and African musical idioms while igniting an intense political crossfire, with Paul Simon accused of breaking the UN cultural boycott of South Africa designed to end the Apartheid regime.

The universal appeal of the music of Graceland proved more powerful and enduring than the political hotbed attending its creation. In 1986, the album sold 14 million copies worldwide, and received universal praise from critics around the globe. Simon and the members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo performed on Saturday Night Live and appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone.

By January of 1987, You Can Call Me Al was everywhere and Graceland won Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards in 1987. Then, in an unprecedented carryover, the album garnered the Grammy for Song of the Year with its title track in 1988. The album generated three hit singles and kept Paul Simon and the Graceland tour on the road for five years.

In the film, Simon provides a fresh and revelatory perspective on the album while gathering the record’s original musicians for a transcendental Graceland concert reunion. Under African Skies features interviews with key anti-apartheid activists of the time and such musical legends as Quincy Jones, Harry Belafonte, Paul McCartney, David Byrne and Peter Gabriel.

Timothy White, Billboard said: “Graceland continues to provide rewards to its listeners and remains a pivotal listening experience for writers, artists and fans. Paul Simon’s Graceland played a greatly significant role in removing the standoffish dread Western culture harbored toward South Africa during its internal struggle against apartheid, humanizing both a country’s soul-searching hunger for liberation and its simultaneous outpouring of cathartic creative expression.”

Peter Gabriel said: “Prior to Graceland, the music of South Africa was largely unknown outside the country, except to a small minority of world music fans…”

Joe Strummer said: “I don’t like the idea that people who aren’t adolescents make records. Adolescents make the best records. Except for Paul Simon. Except for Graceland. He’s hit a new plateau there, but he’s writing to his own age group. Graceland is something new. (interviewed by Richard Cromelin for the Los Angeles Times on January 31, 1988).