This review was originally published on February 1, 2012…
In August 1986, Paul Simon released his seventh album, “Graceland,” which went on to win that year’s “Album of the Year” Grammy award. It reached #3 on the Billboard charts and sold over 14 million copies. Not only did “Graceland” cement itself as one of Simon’s strongest efforts but it also served as an introduction to South African music for mainstream America. This was during a time when South Africa was suffering through apartheid and the United Nations’ Anti-Apartheid Committee had instated a cultural boycott. Under African Skies is Joe Berlinger’s documentary about Simon going back to South Africa to meet with the musicians who helped him craft the record twenty-five years earlier.
For fans of Paul Simon’s music, and fans of “Graceland” specifically, there is a lot to enjoy here. Hearing Simon discuss the making of “Homeless” with Ladysmith Black Mambazo is incredible. Seeing live performances from the album’s tour puts this unique story into perspective. And clearly, watching Simon and L.B.M. create one of Saturday Night Live’s coolest musical performances can’t be skipped.
For those people who aren’t familiar with “Graceland,” you will be by the end of Under African Skies. You’ll understand the cultural significance of the musical elements combined in tracks like “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “You Can Call Me Al.” If you need co-signs from famous people, you’ll get them. From Oprah and Whoopi Goldberg to Harry Belafonte and David Byrne, Berlinger interviews fans of the album to give a great third party perspective on the music’s impact. (Note: Oprah considers “Graceland” to be her favorite album of all-time, even beating out Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life.”)
So if you’re a cardholding member of the Paul Simon Fan Club or if you’ve never picked up a single album and don’t have any plans to, Under African Skies has something entertaining for you and it’s worth watching. Anyone who loves music, how it’s created and how it’s used, will love Under African Skies.