. . .
The final song on Peter Gabriel was a long, haunting dirge entitled “Biko,” which was all about the death of anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko in police custody in 1977.
And while it’s just a bit long and dirgy for me to love it as much as I loved other songs on that album, I didn’t really know what it was all about until I went back into it in the wake of a whole album that it directly inspired, Artists United Against Apartheid’s Sun City.
Artists United Against Apartheid was the brainchild of Steven Van Zandt, who had left the E Street band and was a couple of records into his own solo career when he’d decided to write about the apartheid regime in South Africa. Van Zandt has said that “Biko” was a song that stimulated his interest in the subject, and so when it came time to assemble the musicians to play on the “Sun City” song, Peter Gabriel was naturally invited.
And at some point, when the decision was made to put out a whole album — most of the songs variations on the main song — one of the songs included was “No More Apartheid,” credited to Gabriel and jazz violinist L. Shankar, who had played with musicians as disparate as John McLaughlin and Echo and The Bunnymen.
This is where it gets tricky: “No More Apartheid” wasn’t really a song, but — from what I can tell from my admittedly spotty internet research — was essentially constructed around a Gabriel vocal improvisation and possibly a drum loop he did, as well.
Then they added the rest of the instruments around it. So while there isn’t really any form or structure or lyrics outside of what I think is “no more apartheid / we don’t like it” the result is utterly hypnotic, no matter how big and 1980s the drums are.
But despite — or probably because — it’s a pure studio creation, there’s always a shitload going on: guitars and synths and strings buzzing in and out of the mix; overdubbed Gabriels chanting on top of each other, but totally anchored around a half-rock / half-hip-hop beat. It was admittedly a throwaway, but man, what a throwaway!
“No More Apartheid”
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