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Simon show revives Graceland controversy

Memories of turbulent anti-apartheid protests will be revived when Paul Simon dusts off his Graceland album and performs in Hyde Park on July 15.

It will mark the 25th anniversary of Simon’s original UK Graceland tour when shows were picketed by anti-apartheid protestors who were angry at Simon’s decision to ignore a United Nations boycott and work with South African musicians on the album.

Although Simon’s intentions were to showcase the musicians of the black African townships, the way he did it antagonised many artists who had campaigned against the apartheid system.

Billy Bragg recalled the issue, talking to The Guardian. "It pained me to be part of that because I'm a Paul Simon fan," he said, "but he was on the wrong side of the argument despite his good intentions. The cultural boycott was part of the economic boycott that brought South Africa to heel. Paul Simon set his own terms, and that had to be done by people on the ground."

The anniversary coincides with the premiere of a documentary on the making of the album. Paul Simon: Under African Skies, directed by Joe Berlinger, debates the issue of the cultural boycott and Simon explains his motives to Dali Tambo, founder of Artists Against Apartheid.

Ironically, while Simon still faces questions on why he worked with black South Africans, artists like Queen and Rod Stewart, who played the whites-only Sun City venue, have found that the issue is forgiven and forgotten.

What is not under dispute is the quality of the music that Simon and the township musicians produced. Simon has described Graceland as his best solo album. Told about the Hyde Park gig, Bragg said "I’d go along. It’s a great record."

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