Inspired by a newfound love for South African music, Paul Simon took the journey of a lifetime to a recording studio in a nation gripped by Apartheid, bringing back to New York the puzzle pieces of what turned out to be his masterpiece. The 25th anniversary edition of Graceland details the process in a pretty profound way.
The music, of course, you already know. Slightly remastered versions of every classic cut are here, along with a ten minute audio interview with Simon about the roots of the album. The real prize, however, is the second disc, which contains a DVD of the excellent Joe Berlinger documentary Under African Skies. The film does more to illuminate the dark days of pre-revolution South Africa than UN sanctions ever could have.
The film doesn't attempt to mythologize its subject. The centerpiece is actually a healthy debate between Simon and Dali Tambo, the South African co-founder of Artists Against Apartheid. Tambo was one his most fervent detractors at the time of the Graceland recording, and it's positively riveting to watch the two old foes reminisce about the controversy surrounding Simon's disregard for the worldwide cultural embargo that Tambo himself was instrumental in establishing.
The documentary also reunites Simon with most of his Graceland collaborators as they prepare to perform the album in South Africa for a small audience. The musicians, including guitarist Ray Phiri and Ladysmith Black Mambazo leader Joseph Shabalala, obviously consider Simon a lifelong friend and they paint a touching portrait of the man.
You've heard the music before, and if this album were just a remastered version, it wouldn't be worth purchasing. Adding in the documentary was a smart move: Under African Skies is worth its weight in gold.