Then and Now: Paul Simon gets musical due at Jewish film fest

When Paul Simon’s seminal album “Graceland” came out in 1986, it was lauded as a musical masterpiece for the Jewish songwriter, but he was criticized by some for recording in apartheid South Africa, despite giving international exposure to local musicians.

With South African musicians in “Under African Skies”

History has borne out Simon’s belief in the power of music to overcome politics, and Joe Berlinger’s film “Under African Skies,” about the making of this album, has been a highlight of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (the documentary’s final screening is 2:05 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4 at the Rafael Film Center).

It turns out that Simon’s first solo album 40 years ago, “Paul Simon,” was put together after he broke up with Art Garfunkel and came out to San Francisco to record some demos. Setting the stage for the genre-busting collaborations on “Graceland,” his song “Mother and Child Reunion” — recorded in Jamaica — was one of the first reggae-infused pop songs written by a white musician. The city made Simon its own not long after by licensing the song “At the Zoo” for the San Francisco Zoo.

This column is provided to j. by Daniel Schifrin, writer-in-residence at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, where stories of local Jewish life are explored in “California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present.”

Dan Schifrin
Dan Schifrin

Daniel Schifrin, a local teacher and writer, is writing a play about medieval Jewish Spain as a LABA Fellow at the JCC East Bay.