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‘Graceland’ (Paul Simon, 1986), an invitation to dance to the rhythms of the world

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Grammy for Album of the Year 1986, the fifth best album of the eighties according to Rolling Stone magazine, around 15 million copies sold… Graceland  was the biggest hit for Paul Simon (the guitar player in the famous sixties duo Simon & Garfunkel, the one who really had a gift for this music thing).

After having created hymns like ‘The Boxer’, ‘The Sound of Silence’ or ‘Mrs. Robinson’, Simon spent the seventies reaping success glued to his guitar and folk rock. And he didn’t do badly doing what he did best: he won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1976 with Still Crazy After All These Years (he’s one of only six artists in history to have won more than one Grammy for Album of the Year). of the year).

But in the eighties something changed. The world changed. The music changed. And Paul Simon changed. He released Graceland , one of the most critically acclaimed albums and a true treasure trove of sounds, melodies, lyrics and rhythms worth remembering. This brief article is, more than an attempt at analysis of any kind, an invitation to discover Paul Simon’s masterpiece.

Graceland, legendary worldbeat record

When talking about the worldbeat genre  , Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel are mainly mentioned, who in the mid-eighties explored the fusion of rhythms and sounds from different corners of the world (especially Latin America and Africa) and incorporated them into Western rock and electronic music. . From Peter Gabriel we can keep ‘Shaking the Tree’ as a representative song of this style. In his case, Paul Simon had just participated in USA For Africa in 1985 when he began to think about his next work: Graceland.

We must not go wrong with the album cover image. Although what appears to be a medieval illustration with a knight mounted on horseback and carrying lances appears, the disc’s content is far from the spirit of the Crusades or the atmosphere of Visigothic castles.

Rolling Stone magazine called it “charming and daring”, and it is that among its eleven tracks we find sounds that make us travel from our room to the interior of Africa and listen to drums in the desert, to Deep America with the sound of the banjo or to the waters of the Caribbean (in fact the famous band Los Lobos came to denounce Paul Simon for plagiarism in the song ‘All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints’).

Below we make a selection of three tracks from the album, which is but a small sample of the variety of styles that are hidden in Graceland . We start with the song that gives the album its title, and we continue with the African rhythms.

The mysterious folk in ‘Graceland’

Winner of the Grammy for Best Song in 1988, ‘Graceland’ is a piece that, although it begins with a rhythm identifiable with American music, gradually evolves and incorporates sounds that cannot be qualified.

The sound of Africa in ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’

No more than five seconds will pass and the listener will understand what we are talking about. No. It’s not the intro to ‘The Lion King’. It is the influence of musicians from South Africa, which allowed Paul Simon to imagine songs like this and inspired him to write others like ‘Under African Skies’.

The invitation to the dance in ‘You can call me Al’

The most iconic song from Graceland , an explosion of rhythm that gains even more strength and meaning in the live version that Paul Simon recorded at one of his two concerts in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1987, to promote his album. . Attention to the public and the musicians! Impossible not to move in the seat while listening to this song!

In 1990 Paul Simon returned to the exploration of ethnic music with the album The Rhythm Of The Saints, in which we can hear influences and sounds coming from places like Cameroon or Brazil. However, nothing has had as much impact and repercussion as the list of songs from the great Graceland , an album that every music lover should know and listen to sometime.

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