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Sun City: Artists United Against Apartheid (1985)

A protest organization of rock musicians musically declare their boycott of a major South African resort and the making of that video is discussed.


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Credited cast:
Via Afrika ...
Iqbal Akhund ...
Himself - Asst. Secretary General (as Iqbai Akhund)
Tina B. ...
Ray Barretto ...
Stiv Bators ...
Himself (as Stiv Bator)
Big Youth ...
Himself (as Ruben Blades)
Duke Bootee ...
Ron Carter ...


In this music video, the musician members of the protest organization, Artists Against Apartheid, announce in song their refusal to perform at the major South African resort, Sun City, while that country's tyrannically racist policy of Apartheid is in effect. In addition, the making of this video and the main political motivations of the participants is also depicted and discussed. Written by Kenneth Chisholm (kchishol@rogers.com)

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Documentary | Music





Release Date:

7 December 1985 (USA)  »

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Features Donahue (1967) See more »


Sun City
Written by Steven Van Zandt
Performed by Artists United Against Apartheid
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Review Of Sun City
6 February 2017 | by (NOTW) – See all my reviews

One of the most fervent and forceful political statements to emerge from Eighties pop music, Sun City didn't achieve the sales or wide radio airplay of other "cause" records like We Are the World. Nevertheless, the single and the accompanying album managed to achieve their primary goals: to draw attention to South Africa's racist policy of apartheid and to support a cultural boycott of the country.

"It was completely successful, and that's such a rare thing," says Sun City organizer and co-producer Steve "Little Steven" Van Zandt, who rallied dozens of top rock, funk, rap and jazz acts to work on the project. "Issue-oriented events and records can be very frustrating, because you really don't see the results, whether it's feeding people in Ethiopia or raising money for AIDS research. Our goal was to stop performers from going there, and to this day no major artists of any integrity have played Sun City."

Van Zandt, a former member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, was sitting in a Los Angeles movie theater waiting for a film to start when he got the original inspiration for the project. The theater's PA system was playing Peter Gabriel's "Biko," which eulogizes the murdered South African human-rights activist, and Van Zandt was captivated by the song's message. He started examining the apartheid situation and began to write an anthem about the entertainment resort called Sun City for his third solo album.

A Vegas-style recreation center with glamorous hotels, gambling casinos, showrooms and spas, Sun City is located in Bophuthatswana, one of South Africa's so-called "homeland" regions, where Zulus were relocated without their consent. In efforts to legitimize the area, Sun City has offered vast sums to entertainers to perform there. Some of the acts that have done so in years past include Rod Stewart, Queen and Linda Ronstadt. Although executives at the resort frequently try to downplay the realities of apartheid, the Sun City complex has become a symbol of the opulence that whites enjoy at the expense of the country's black natives.

Rethinking his initial approach to the project, Van Zandt decided to release the tune as a single for maximum effectiveness. Rather than performing the song himself, however, he considered using artists from various genres to sing one verse each, hoping to break down musical separatism in the United States as well as apartheid in South Africa. The idea took on a life of its own, and more than fifty musicians eventually wound up contributing their talents, including Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Gil Scott-Heron, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Bonnie Raitt, Lou Reed, David Ruffin, Run-D.M.C., Ringo Starr, Pete Townshend and Bobby Womack.

The embarrassment of riches evolved into different versions of "Sun City" for single release and an entire album of outtakes. "Peter Gabriel had a basic log-drum part he did with a chant for about seven minutes, and I didn't have a place for it on the single, so it became an album track," says Van Zandt. "The same thing happened with Miles Davis. I had a part for him on the intro, just a few seconds, but he played for seven minutes. There I was using five seconds on the song, and I thought, 'I can't leave six minutes of Miles on the floor!' So we got Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and Ron Carter and put together a jazz version."

In addition to the jazz number and the "Sun City" single, Davis also appeared on several other of the album's tracks, including the galvanizing rap collage "Let Me See Your I.D." A stark, harrowing glimpse of South Africa's totalitarian regime, which restricts free movement and forces blacks to carry identification papers, the song is centered on improvised lyrics by Scott-Heron and also features rapper Grandmaster Melle Mel; the Malopoets, a South African vocal group; and Peter Garrett, lead singer of Midnight Oil.

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