Homeless – Paul Simon

Paul Frederic Simon is an American musician, actor and singer-songwriter. Simon’s fame, influence, and commercial success began as part of the duo Simon & Garfunkel, formed in 1964 with musical...

Paul Frederic Simon is an American musician, actor and singer-songwriter. Simon’s fame, influence, and commercial success began as part of the duo Simon & Garfunkel, formed in 1964 with musical partner Art Garfunkel. Simon wrote nearly all of the pair’s songs, including three that reached No. 1 on the U.S. singles charts: “The Sound of Silence“, “Mrs. Robinson“, and “Bridge over Troubled Water“. The duo split up in 1970 at the height of their popularity, and Simon began a successful solo career as a guitarist and singer-songwriter.

In the early 1980s, Simon’s career hit a low point.  “Hearts and Bones, released in 1983, was a significant commercial disappointment. In 1984, after a period of depression, Simon became fascinated with a bootleg cassette of South African township music called Accordion Jive Hits, II. He planned a trip to Johannesburg in the new year with his producer Roy Halee, where he spent two weeks recording with South African musicians.

The outcome was “Graceland” a major commercial hit and Simon’s most successful studio album. Controversially, at that time, Simon faced accusations by organizations such as Artists United Against Apartheid (featuring among others Dylan, Springsteen and Bono), anti-apartheid musicians and others that he had broken the cultural boycott imposed by the rest of the world against the apartheid regime in South Africa, which was in its final years at the time. Even the African National Congress protested the collaboration as a break in the cultural boycott.

In contrast, Simon received praise for encouraging South African music from Hugh Masekela, one of South Africa’s most prominent musicians and an exiled opponent of apartheid, who subsequently toured alongside Simon and Miriam Makeba. The worldwide success of the album introduced some of the musicians, especially the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, to global audiences of their own.

According to Simon:

What was unusual about Graceland is that it was on the surface apolitical, but what it represented was the essence of the antiapartheid in that it was a collaboration between blacks and whites to make music that people everywhere enjoyed. It was completely the opposite from what the apartheid regime said, which is that one group of people were inferior. Here, there were no inferiors or superiors, just an acknowledgement of everybody’s work as a musician. It was a powerful statement.

Indeed, the album features a song which implicitly talks about the suffering of the South African people. It is the most peculiar track and, musically, the most “African” one.

It is called “Homeless” written by Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo lead singer Joseph Shabalala. The album’s booklet tells the story of Simon sending to Shabalala a sample in which he sang “We are homeless/ Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake“, asking him to continue the story in zulu language adding all the rhythmic and melodic changes he needed. The lyrics mixed Zulu and English and describe the band feelings to be “homeless” in their own country South Africa because of the violence and displacement caused by the apartheid.

The intro is based on a Zulu wedding song whose lyrics had been rephrased. Then the song continues always with the implicit comparison between the conditions of homeless and black people in South Africa. For example: “Strong wind, destroy all our homes/ Many dead, tonight it could be you.” could be the description of a natural disaster, or the idea that apartheid destroyed the South Africans’ homes and homeland, driving them into isolation, poverty, and death.

The end is a sort of self-celebration by the band, given the fact that the song was recorded in the glorious Abbey Road studios: “Yithi omanqoba”/”We are the victors!” they shout; “Esanqoba phakathi e England”/”We have conquered England!” and “Esanqoba lonke ilizwe”/”We defeated the whole country!” . Thus satisfied, they let fly one more triumphant whoop: “Kulumani sizwe/Singenze njani/Baya jabula abasi thanda yo/ Ho”; this is their signature sign-off line, meaning, roughly, “We hereby proclaim that we are the best at singing in this style.” The style they refer to is the isicathamiya, a singing “a cappella style that originated from the South African Zulus.

Emaweni webaba
Silale maweni
Webaba silale maweni

Webaba silale maweni
Webaba silale maweni
Webaba silale maweni

Webaba silale maweni
Webaba silale maweni
Webaba silale maweni
Webaba silale maweni
Webaba silale maweni

Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake

And we are homeless, we are homeless
The moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
And we are homeless, we are homeless
The moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake

Zio yami, Zio yami, nhliziyo yami
Nhliziyo yami amakhaza asengi bulele
Nhliziyo yami, Nhliziyo yami
Nhliziyo yami, angibulele amakhaza
Nhliziyo yami, Nhliziyo yami
Nhliziyo yami somandla angibulele mama
Zio yami, Nhliziyo yami
Nhliziyo yami, Nhliziyo yami

Too loo loo, too loo loo
Too loo loo loo loo loo loo loo loo loo
Too loo loo, too loo loo
Too loo loo loo loo loo loo loo loo loo

Strong wind destroy our home
Many dead, tonight it could be you
Strong wind, strong wind
Many dead, tonight it could be you

And we are homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
And we are homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake

Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody cry why, why why?
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody cry why, why why?
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih

Yitho omanqoba (ih hih ih hih ih) yitho omanqoba
Esanqoba lonke ilizwe
(ih hih ih hih ih) Yitho omanqoba (ih hih ih hih ih)
Esanqoba phakathi e England

Yitho omanqoba
Esanqoba phakathi e London
Yitho omanqoba
Esanqoba phakathi e England

Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody cry why, why why?
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody cry why, why why?

Kulumani
Kulumani, Kulumani sizwe
Singenze njani
Baya jabula abasi thanda yo
Ho

Hey, Mister, we sleep on the cliffs.
Hey, Mister, we sleep on the cliffs.

We sleep on the cliffs
We sleep on the cliffs
We sleep on the cliffs

We sleep on the cliffs
We sleep on the cliffs
We sleep on the cliffs
We sleep on the cliffs
We sleep on the cliffs

Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake

And we are homeless, we are homeless
The moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
And we are homeless, we are homeless
The moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake

My heart, My heart
My heart, the cold has already killed me.
My heart, My heart
My heart, the cold has already killed me.
My heart, My heart
My heart, the cold has already killed me.
God the almighty is sleeping mama
My heart, My heart
My heart, My heart

Too loo loo, too loo loo
Too loo loo loo loo loo loo loo loo loo
Too loo loo, too loo loo
Too loo loo loo loo loo loo loo loo loo

Strong wind destroy our home
Many dead, tonight it could be you
Strong wind, strong wind
Many dead, tonight it could be you

And we are homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
And we are homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake

Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody cry why, why why?
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody cry why, why why?
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih

We are the victors (ih hih ih hih ih)
we are the victors
We defeated the whole country
(ih hih ih hih ih)
We are the victors (ih hih ih hih ih)
We have conquered England!
We are the victors

We have conquered London
We are the victors
We have conquered England

Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody cry why, why why?
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody cry why, why why?

We hereby proclaim
that we are the best
singing in this style

Homeless – Paul Simon
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Marco Principia

Born in Rome, his beloved city. Graduated with honors in Political Science and International Relations at Università degli Studi "Roma Tre". Expert of current affairs and United Nations. Recently attended a course in Humanitarian Emergency at INTERSOS. Currently employed at CIES - ONLUS in the Coordination and Organization Office for Interpreting and Translation Service for Territorial Commissions for the Recognition of International Protection. Huge fan of A.S. Roma.
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