The story goes that Simon heard a tape called Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits, Volume II and immediately hopped a flight to Soweto to learn more about the township jive called mbaqanga. It’s not true (it was months before he went to South Africa) but it is the most spontaneous thing the world’s most rational songwriter is even rumored to have done, and that sense of liberation and adventure is all over Graceland. In addition to throwing his ears open to a host of new players and singers—Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Boyoyo Boys, Tao Ea Matsekha and, back in the U.S., the Mexican-American group Los Lobos—Graceland was the first album Simon ever made in which the rhythm tracks were recorded first, and the exuberant, propulsive tempos make even his gorgeous lament “Losing love/ Is like a window in your heart/ Everybody sees you’re blown apart,” seem buoyant. The only thing about Graceland that didn’t create joy was the initial response of the United Nations, which blacklisted Simon upon the album’s release for violating the cultural boycott of South Africa. Did they think he was jamming with Pik Botha?
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