Thursday, October 16, 2014

Homeless



"I didn't know at the time how I could possibly fit into their world, and if they wanted me to fit into their world."
Paul Simon wrote this song with Joseph Shabalala, lead singer of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  The group's name comes from the town of Ladysmith, South Africa. 

It was the 1980's, and Paul Simon was among those supporting the anti-apartheid movement. Life in South Africa was a horror story if you weren't white. Afrikaners held that it was impossible, impracticable and ungodly for the different races and cultures to live as one.
Simon had seen Ladysmith Black Mambazo on a BBC documentary called Rhythm of Resistance: The Music of South Africa, and traveled to South Africa in 1985 to meet them.  Shabalala gave him albums the group had recorded.  Simon listened to them every night. 

In the documentary Under African Skies, Simon explained: "I was bewitched by Ladysmith Black Mambazo because they were so beautiful. The music was enchanting - it was all a cappella, and it was so beautiful that I was intimidated. They were so good at what they did and it was so contained that I didn't know at the time how I could possibly fit into their world, and if they wanted me to fit into their world."


  • Regarding the meaning of the song, Joseph Shabalala said, "We're far away from home and we're sleeping. Our fists are our pillows."
Afrikaners (the white folks) held that it was impossible, impracticable and ungodly for the different races and cultures to live as one.
High school students protest in 1976 Soweto.
This is Hector Pieterson, the first casualty, being carried by Mbuyisa
 Makhubo after South African police fired into the crowd of children.
His sister, Antoinette Sithole, runs beside them. Hector
was declared dead on arrival at the clinic where they'd 
taken him, hoping for help.
The death toll; 176 to 700 depending on the
data source.  More than an additional 1000
people were wounded by the police action.
In 1976, thousands of black children in Soweto, a black township outside Johannesburg, demonstrated against the Afrikaans language requirement for black African students.  The police opened fire with tear gas and bullets. 

The protests and government crackdowns shattered all illusions that apartheid had brought peace or prosperity to the nation.
The United Nations General Assembly had denounced apartheid in 1973, and in 1976 the UN Security Council voted to impose a mandatory embargo on the sale of arms to South Africa. In 1985, the United Kingdom and United States imposed economic sanctions on the country.  In early 1994, it was finally over.

The English portion of the lyrics...
Strong wind destroy our home
Many dead, tonight it could be you
(repeated)
And we are homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
(repeated)
And the Zulu lyrics translate approximately ...

Steep cliff
We sleep on the cliffs
My heart and the cold 
My heart, my heart 
My heart, and the cold 
My heart, my heart 
My heart sleeping far from home
My heart, my heart 

A suggested meaning, "My heart/The cold has already killed me." 

The years pass, the world changes, often for the better.  There's a price we pay for the change.  Is it worth it?  Yes and no, and it's huge when there are children involved.  It's hard to balance that equation.