“SUN CITY.” Artists United Against Apartheid. Manhattan.
Unlike “We Are the World,” this album is more than a contribution to a worthy cause. In a year in which the most rewarding LPs have done little more than mark the return and arrival of outstanding artists (John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” and Lone Justice’s debut, respectively), “Sun City” becomes the first work with the purpose and passion to make it essential.
Where “We Are the World” was composed chiefly of tracks whose only link was the fact that all the artists were donating their royalties, the seven songs here were made specifically for this anti-apartheid collection, and each bristles with the deep-rooted emotion that you’d expect of such an urgent, spontaneous endeavor.
Bono Hewson’s “Silver and Gold,” for instance, was written and recorded (with guitar help from Keith Richards and Ron Wood) in the two days that Hewson had planned to be in New York simply to make the video for the project. Instead of the rock grandeur associated with his work in U2, the acoustic number is a breathless country blues. The disheartened look at social oppression includes the lines, “No stars in the black night/Look like the sky fall down/No sun in the daylight/Looks like it’s chained to the ground.”
The other numbers contribute to the sense of a timely crusade. They range from the siren-like textures of Peter Gabriel’s mostly instrumental “No More Apartheid” to “Revolutionary Situation,” an aural collage that blends a piece of the black national anthem of South Africa with voice clips of President Reagan and such black South African leaders as Bishop Desmond Tutu and political prisoner Nelson Mandela.
“The Struggle Continues” is a blistering jazz excursion--led by Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Jordan and drummer Tony Williams--through the fire within the belly of the South African black community, while the rap-centered “Let Me See Your ID” outlines the anger and disbelief of such outsiders as Gil Scott-Heron, Melle Mel, Duke Bootee, Big Youth and Peter Wolf over what is happening in that troubled land.
The heart of the album, however, is the title track, written and co-produced by Steve Van Zandt, and featuring more than 50 rock, pop, reggae, salsa, rap, jazz and R&B; artists in an all too rare utilization of the cross-cultural potential of contemporary pop. In a refreshing attack on the practice of isolating musicians by category, the roster ranges from Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan to Run-D. M. C. and Afrika Bambaataa to Ruben Blades and Jimmy Cliff to Lou Reed and George Clinton.
In the record, the musicians pledge not to perform in Sun City, the controversial, integrated gambling resort in the black South African “homeland” of Bophuthaswana, and chide the United States for not applying more pressure on the government in Johannesburg. In the main version on Side 1, the message is built around a relentless, dance-club beat. A second version, opening Side 2, features a harder, guitar-oriented rock edge. Both versions, co-produced by Arthur Baker, are bold, entrancing exercises.
There’s no law that music must have a social purpose in order to be significant. I prize many of Dylan’s love songs more than most of his social reflections. However, truly affecting music does usually require passion, and that’s the quality that Van Zandt, Baker and this all-star cast have brought to every minute of this LP.
“We Are the World” was a challenge to the public to respond to a scandalous situation in Africa--and a call for the musical community to use more of its energy and power in behalf of social good. “Sun City” is a far more powerful answer to the latter than we had a right to expect.