Angelique Kidjo and Peter Gabriel. Zap Mama and Erykah Badu. Lucky Dube and Sting. African music has mixed with the music of the US and Europe before, bringing some of the top artists in the game together. Only when you hear the name of a star like Angelique Kidjo, you expect to hear someone like Alicia Keys or Carlos Santana getting on a track with them. Rarely will you see a big name like Mick Jagger or Madonna do big shows with the lesser known artists from the rest of the world.
So when one of the greatest songwriters of all times, Paul Simon, dedicated an entire series of shows to performing with acts lesser known in the US and titled it Paul Simon: Under African Skies, it instantly became an affair to remember. Several artists from Africa and South America got to perform their own songs and do a cover of one of Simon’s songs in this series. Performing on stage with the man who became a symbol of American lyricism is an honor beyond any words. There were no cheap moves like replaying the infamous Central Park concert with ArtGarfunkel. It was a true authentic experience. It was Paul Simon’s show at Brooklyn Academy of Music circa 2008.
Kaïssa (Cameroon), Ladysmith Black Mambazo (South Africa), Vusi Mahlasela (South Africa), Cyro Baptista (Brazil) and Luciana Souza (Brazil) were also joined by David Byrne (Talking Heads). While Ladysmith Black Mambazo was featured on Paul Simon’s album Graceland more than 20 years ago, an artist like Kaïssa was picked based on her independent work.
The show itself was a gem of a more traditional musical experience infused with the least expected choreographic and overall emotional add-ons. Ladysmith Black Mambazo performed African dances and stirred a singing storm in itself. Kaïssa radiated warmth and grace while offering a power of a seasoned voice. Luciana Souza put forth an amazing and unexpected warmhearted and gentle act while 5 months pregnant. David Byrne’s energy level set it off like it was 1980s. Paul Simon took the audience at an instant with his entirely preserved voice, complex pensive lyricism and occasional jokes.
The light show, which accompanied the concert, blended perfectly with the genuinely authentic African sounds, deep Latin tunes and just good ol’ American music. The vivid imagery of African and Latin American wardrobes turned the stage into a living colorful musical playhouse. The entire night’s vivid creative gentle aura presented much more than people. It offered a range of life stories, emotions and love for music above all.
The series was a gift from Paul Simon to people and it reflected his love and respect for African and Brazilian music. It was this gift that made it special and unique beyond music itself. It was this gift that commemorated him.
Paul Simon: Under African Skies photos (photo credit Jack Vartoogian)