Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Critical Review #8 Feld and Meintjes 1990

The discussion in these two articles of Paul Simon's Graceland cover a lot of ground. Meintjes delves into more discussion than the Feld, but, as with Buena Vista Social Club, it's important to know as much background information on this record as possible. I'm finding it hard to make this a critical review about the Feld and Meintjes articles because I mostly want to leap from their discussion on Graceland into my own.

One of the highlights from the Meintjes article is the part on how Graceland includes a hodgepodge of African elements. This "stylistic integration" ranges from a blending of languages, as well as the album's cover art, which features an "Ethiopian effigy" when no other Ethiopian influence is present. This suggests an album that is not wholly South African, but not pan-African either. The inclusion of Los Lobos on the record made this more confusing for me. Meintjes discusses the political ambiguity of Graceland, but I found it just as aesthetically ambiguous.

From my own experiences from the record, it seems like it's purposefully avoiding any political attachment in the name of music and collaboration. I think I agree with Meintjes that this aesthetic pastiche in the actual product of Graceland disregards the collaborators and contributors in a way that disables their agency and artistic integrity. The process and touring around Graceland seems to more sensitive and interested in the collaborators well-being.

I regard this album not as something representative of Africa or African music, but as a Paul Simon record that he got some African musicians to interpret. The product is and has been, at least for me, unmistakably Paul Simon, and if anything, this wide ranging and vague degrees of collaboration detract from Paul Simon's artistic trajectory as an artist. I think Graceland isn't trying to be some Western artist-guided dialogue or exploration of a musical genre or style (unlike Buena Vista Social Club). Rather, it is a confusedly African tinged piece of pop music.

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