Indeed, Joseph Shabalala and the rest of Ladysmith – nor indeed the entire original Graceland band - wouldn’t have been there at Hyde Park whooping and dancing and grinning and singing so sweetly as Simon reconstructed the original album and tour had this not been the case.
I’d initially been ambivalent about the gig. Artists delving back into past glories are usually the sign of somebody in search either of an ego boost or a new pension plan. But this turns out to be a remarkable occasion. Starting early enough to avoid the Springsteen/McCartney unplugged humiliation, Simon produces a set that lasts for almost three hours and, quite apart from the utter joy of hearing Graceland soar into the sky sounding every bit as fresh, celebratory and inventive as it had done 25 years earlier, rabbits are pulled from the hat at every turn.
After kicking things off with an ebullient Kodachrome, surprising us all with the enduring quality of his voice and the intensity of his performance, Simon Introduces “one of my all-time heroes”, Jimmy Cliff. And jaws instantly hit the floor as, pitch-perfect, Cliff explodes into The Bigger They Come and then dives headlong into Many Rivers To Cross, hitting those big bad notes at the top without blinking. The man is a god.
We also get another icon, South African trumpeter, poet and activist Hugh Masekela belying his 73 years with a vehement, impassioned burst; and Jerry Douglas and the whole Graceland enterprise is sandwiched by a seemingly endless supply of hits.
Full of humility, Simon is committed and energised and, in front of an audience littered with pockets of surprisingly young admirers, there’s not the remotest suggestion of going through the motions or even any real sense of nostalgia as he sends us home dancing on the soles of our shoes, reminding us that there’s a big, wide world out there and we should be celebrating it.
Pic by Mark Seliger