Under African Skies

Under African Skies

Directed by: Joe Berlinger
102 minutes

New England Premiere

Paul Simon’s album Graceland was released to acclaim as well as criticism in 1986. Recorded in conjunction with local musicians in Johannesburg, it is an ebullient hybrid of western rock, pop, and a cappella infused with the isicathamiya vocal style and mbaqanga music indigenous to South Africa. The album went on to sell over 14 million copies. Twenty-five years after its release, filmmaker Joe Berlinger (CRUDE, IFFBoston 2009; METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER, IFFBoston 2004) chronicles Simon’s journey to South Africa to reunite with the artists including Ladysmith Black Mambazo who collaborated on the opus declared by Time Magazine to be one of the top 100 albums of all time.

Simon recounts the album’s tumultuous origins, the ground it broke musically, and the charges made by detractors who accused him of breaking a political boycott at a time when South Africa was still bound under the abhorrent apartheid policy of racial segregation. These opponents suggested that Simon was a cultural opportunist exploiting these African musicians and perpetuating colonialism. Conversely, he also garnered praise from others for showcasing the work of musicians subjugated under apartheid, who would otherwise never have been heard.

UNDER AFRICAN SKIES reflects on the complicated collision of art and politics as it explores the role and responsibilities of artists in society. The recollections of Simon and his musical partners reveal the context and magnitude of their achievement and its long-lasting influence on the world-music movement.

—Callista Burns