Artists United Against Apartheid

Last updated
Artists United Against Apartheid
GenresVarious-rock, hip hop, jazz
Years active1985
Labels EMI
Past membersVarious
Founded by Steven Van Zandt

Artists United Against Apartheid was a 1985 protest group founded by activist and performer Steven Van Zandt and record producer Arthur Baker to protest against apartheid in South Africa. The group produced the song "Sun City" and the album Sun City that year, which is considered a notable anti-apartheid song. [1] [2]

Activism efforts to promote, impede, or direct social, political, religious, economic, or environmental change, or stasis

Activism consists of efforts to promote, impede, direct, or intervene in social, political, economic, or environmental reform with the desire to make changes in society. Forms of activism range from mandate building in the community, petitioning elected officials, running or contributing to a political campaign, preferential patronage of businesses, and demonstrative forms of activism like rallies, street marches, strikes, sit-ins, or hunger strikes.

Steven Van Zandt American musician

Steven Van Zandt is an American musician, songwriter, producer, actor, and activist who frequently goes by the stage names Little Steven or Miami Steve. He is a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, in which he plays guitar and mandolin. He is also known for his roles on television dramas such as Silvio Dante on The Sopranos (1999–2007) and Frank Tagliano / Giovanni "Johnny" Henriksen on Lilyhammer (2012–2014). Van Zandt also has had his own solo band called Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul, active on and off since the 1980s. In 2014, Van Zandt was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the E Street Band.

Arthur Baker is an American record producer and DJ best known for his work with hip hop artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Planet Patrol, and the British group New Order. He is also known for remixing the Jill Jones song "Mia Bocca" on the 12" single, taken from her self-titled debut album Jill Jones (1987), released on Prince's Paisley Park Records, as well as remixing the Pet Shop Boys song, "In The Night". His remix of the song was used as the main theme for the BBC TV programme The Clothes Show between 1986 and 1994. He also remixed 'the Massive Jungle Mix' for Tina Turner's UK top 40 lead single from her 1996 album Wildest Dreams "Whatever You Want". Arthur Baker's songs are represented by Downtown Music Publishing.


Sun City

Sun City was a place where the South African government allowed entertainment that was banned in most of the country. In protest of apartheid, an international boycott by performers continued for years, although some, such as Queen, ignored it.

Sun City, North West Place in North West, South Africa

Sun City is a luxury resort and casino, situated in the North West Province of South Africa. It is located between the Elands River and the Pilanesberg, about two hours' drive from Johannesburg, near the city of Rustenburg. The complex borders the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.

Queen (band) British rock band

Queen are a British rock band formed in London in 1970. Their classic line-up was Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon. Their earliest works were influenced by progressive rock, hard rock and heavy metal, but the band gradually ventured into more conventional and radio-friendly works by incorporating further styles, such as arena rock and pop rock.

Writing and recording

Van Zandt became interested in writing a song about Sun City to make parallels with the plight of Native Americans. Danny Schechter, a journalist who was then working with ABC News' 20/20 , suggested turning the song into a different kind of "We Are the World", or as Schechter explains, "a song about change not charity, freedom not famine."

When Van Zandt was finished writing "Sun City", he, Schechter and producer Arthur Baker spent the next several months searching for artists to participate in the project. Van Zandt initially declined to invite Springsteen, not wanting to take advantage of their friendship, but Schechter had no problem asking and Springsteen accepted the invitation. Van Zandt was also shy about calling legendary jazz artist Miles Davis. Schechter initiated the contact and Davis also accepted. Eventually, Van Zandt, Baker and Schechter would gather an array of artists, described by rock critic Dave Marsh as "the most diverse line up of popular musicians ever assembled for a single session" [3] , including Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Ruben Blades, Bob Dylan, Pat Benatar, Herbie Hancock, Ringo Starr and his son Zak Starkey, Lou Reed, Run–D.M.C., Peter Gabriel, Bob Geldof, Clarence Clemons, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Darlene Love, Bobby Womack, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, The Fat Boys, Jackson Browne, Daryl Hannah, Peter Wolf, Bono, George Clinton, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Bonnie Raitt, Hall & Oates, Jimmy Cliff, Big Youth, Michael Monroe, Stiv Bators, Peter Garrett, Ron Carter, Ray Barretto, Gil Scott-Heron, Nona Hendryx, Kashif, Lotti Golden, Lakshminarayana Shankar and Joey Ramone. [4]

Sun City (song) 1985 single by Artists United Against Apartheid

"Sun City" is a 1985 protest song written by Steven Van Zandt, produced by Van Zandt and Arthur Baker and recorded by Artists United Against Apartheid to convey opposition to the South African policy of apartheid. The primary means of that opposition is to declare that all the artists involved would refuse any and all offers to perform at Sun City, a resort which was located within the bantustan of Bophuthatswana, one of a number of internationally unrecognized states created by the South African government to forcibly relocate its black population.

Miles Davis American jazz musician

Miles Dewey Davis III was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. He is among the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th century music. Davis adopted a variety of musical directions in a five-decade career that kept him at the forefront of many major stylistic developments in jazz.

Dave Marsh is an American music critic, author, editor and radio talk show host. He was an early editor of Creem magazine, has written for various publications such as Newsday, The Village Voice, and Rolling Stone, and has published numerous books about music and musicians, mostly focused on rock music. He is also a committee member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

These artists also vowed never to perform at Sun City, because to do so would in their minds seem to be an acceptance of apartheid.

Schechter had also taken on the job of documenting the sessions on video and producing a behind-the-scenes documentary, working with 16 mm crews and independent production companies, directed by Jonathan Demme. Paul "Lucky" Goldberg, director, producer and cinematographer for ThunderVision Media Ltd and president of Hollywood New York International since 1993, worked with producer and partner Paul Allen of ThunderVision Media Ltd, based in New York at Kaufman Astoria Studios to capture the action. Lucky and Paul introduced a new camera technology to work alongside the 16mm crews, the one-piece camera - Panasonic's Recam format for extensive handheld coverage of two days of the artists in the streets of Manhattan as well as a rendition of "Sun City" in Washington Square Park. Approximately 150 policemen surrounded the entire park on horseback and foot to secure the area for the performance, which included Van Zandt, Bono, Springsteen, the Fat Boys, Mötley Crüe, Afrika Bambaataa, Nona Hendryx and many others. One of the most notable shots was caught when Bono gave a huge kiss on the cheek to one of the Fat Boys, in his signature yellow satin jacket and red hat. They went on to shoot Sun City II in Central Park, capturing the politics and music of the spirit of Little Steven's award-winning "Sun City", including interviews with Peter Gabriel and Bono.

Jonathan Demme American director, producer and screenwriter

Robert Jonathan Demme was an American director, producer, and screenwriter. He is best known for directing the psychological horror The Silence of the Lambs (1991), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director. He also directed Melvin and Howard (1980), Swing Shift (1984), Something Wild (1986), Married to the Mob (1988), the concert film Stop Making Sense (1984), Philadelphia (1993) and Rachel Getting Married (2008).

Kaufman Astoria Studios

The Kaufman Astoria Studios is a historic movie studio located in the Astoria section of the New York City borough of Queens. It is home to New York City's only backlot, which opened in December 2013.

Panasonic Japanese multinational electronics corporation

Panasonic Corporation, formerly known as Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd., is a Japanese multinational electronics corporation headquartered in Kadoma, Osaka, Japan.

Schechter invited MTV to get involved and asked a friend, Hart Perry, to film the sessions. During the course of the film, Schechter asks the artists to explain their involvement in the project in their own words: "Sun City's become a symbol of a society which is very oppressive and denies basic rights to the majority of its citizens," said Jackson Browne. "In a sense, Sun City is also a symbol of that society's 'right' to entertain itself in any way that it wants to, to basically try to buy us off and to buy off world opinion." Recalls Schechter, "I was surprised that many of the best-known rock 'n rollers were so publicity shy. Most of them had publicists who staged their media appearances. They weren't used to cameras poking them in the face. Bruce Springsteen at first turned down my request for an interview, but just as I was walking away from him dejected, he ran after me and agreed to say a few words for the documentary.

MTV American pay television channel

MTV is an American pay television channel that serves as the flagship property of owner Viacom Media Networks and headquartered in New York City. The channel was launched on August 1, 1981, and originally aired music videos as guided by television personalities known as "video jockeys" (VJs). At first, MTV's main target demographic was young adults, but today it is primarily teenagers, particularly high school and college students.

"When Miles started improvising in the studio...Steven and Arthur [Baker] insisted I not approach him with a camera. 'It's Miles, man," Baker said. "He's erratic, idiosyncratic, explosive. Wild. Don't mess with him when he's playing...' I barged into the booth while Davis was setting up, introduced myself and asked if we could videotape him. Through the glass I could see Steve and Arthur, heads in hands, convinced that I had blown it. Miles smiled. 'Bring it on,' he ordered, 'bring it on.' And we did, getting priceless footage in the bargain."

In addition to "Sun City," a number of other songs were recorded, making up the album Sun City .


For a time Van Zandt and Baker were making the record without a record company or any outside financial support. Van Zandt financed much of it while producer Arthur Baker (notable for his work with Afrika Bambaataa and New Order) donated studio time. Manhattan Records, under Bruce Lundvall's direction, came on board, acquiring rights to the recording and enabling Van Zandt and Baker to pay some of the bills. A committed record company attorney, the late Rick Dutka, also donated his time, along with noted music industry attorney, the late Owen Epstein as well as Van Zandt's assistant, Zoë Yanakis. Also, some New York's top recording engineers, studio musicians and recording studios donated their time as well as the artists who participated in recording Sun City. As well as lead vocals provided by notable artists Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Darlene Love, Run DMC, Lou Reed, Eddie Kendricks, Bonnie Raitt, Nona Hendryx and others, the signature background vocal sound was created by Lotti Golden, B.J.Nelson and Tina B. [5]

Schechter's connections with ABC News posed some risks. "I couldn't tell ABC what I was doing on the side," recalls Schechter. "They would not have approved. I knew I couldn't propose a story about Sun City either, because I had stepped over the line and become part of the story. I tried and mostly succeeded in keeping my name out of the papers and my mug out of the video. I was terrified that 20/20 would dump me if they knew what I was doing, especially if my affiliation with ABC was dragged into it, even though the network had nothing to do with the project. I worked even harder at ABC, producing more stories than many of my colleagues, so I couldn't be accused of slacking off." [6]



The song "Sun City" was only a modest success in the US, reaching #38 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in December 1985. Only about half of American radio stations played "Sun City,"[ citation needed ] with some objecting to the lyrics' explicit criticism of President Ronald Reagan's policy of "constructive engagement."

Meanwhile, "Sun City" was a major success in countries where there was little or no radio station resistance to the record or its messages, reaching #4 in Australia, #10 [7] in Canada, #3 in The Netherlands [8] and #21 in the UK. [9] The song was banned in South Africa.


Van Zandt and Schechter also struggled to get the documentary seen. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) refused to broadcast the non-profit film "The Making of Sun City" even though it won the International Documentary Association's top honors in 1986; PBS claimed the featured artists were also involved in making the film and were therefore "self-promoting."[ citation needed ] (In contrast, PBS chose to broadcast The Making of "Raiders of the Lost Ark", which was made as a promotional exercise by the for-profit Paramount Pictures and Lucasfilm Ltd.) In 1987, WNYC-TV, the New York City-owned public television station, aired an updated version of the documentary, produced by filmmaker Bill Lichtenstein along with Schechter. The film included updates about the Sun City resort and apartheid as well as the success of the Sun City video. In addition to airing the documentary, WNYC-TV made the film available over the PBS system to public television stations across the country for broadcast.

Overall impact

The album and single raised more than a million U.S. dollars for anti-apartheid projects. It premiered at the United Nations, thanks to the Special Committee Against Apartheid and UN officers such as Aracelly Santana.[ citation needed ]

The record never achieved the financial success of "We Are the World," although Oliver Tambo and the ANC's school in Tanzania "was sure happy when we gave them a big check," according to Schechter.

In South Africa, "Sun City" would later inspire musician Johnny Clegg to create a local organization similar to Van Zandt's, and "Sun City" also became the catalyst for the South Africa Now TV series.


With the end of the apartheid regime in 1994 and the reintegration of Sun City and other former nominally-independent regions into the South African state, "Sun City" ceased to be a contemporary protest and became a historical document.

In 1997, the man who created Sun City, Sol Kerzner, came to the United States to build the Mohegan Sun, a Native American gambling casino.

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  2. "Nelson Mandela and music: Ten essential anti-Apartheid songs - latimes". December 5, 2013. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  3. Marsh, Dave & Bernard, James (1994) New Book of Rock Lists Fireside 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York NY 10020 ISBN   0-671-78700-4.
  4. "Sun City: Artists United Against Apartheid - Various Artists / Credits". AllMusic . Retrieved September 12, 2018.
  5. "Artists United Against Apartheid - Sun City". Discogs . Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  6. Danny, Schechter (1999). The more you watch, the less you know : news wars/(sub)merged hopes/media adventures (Rev. and updated ed.). New York: Seven Stories Press. ISBN   1888363800. OCLC   40759595.
  7. "Top Singles". RPM . Library and Archives Canada. 43 (18). January 25, 1986. Archived from the original on October 11, 2012.
  8. Top 40, Stichting Nederlandse. "Top 40 week 51 van 1985". (in Dutch). Retrieved 2019-05-22.
  9. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 31. ISBN   1-904994-10-5.

^ The More You Watch, The Less You Know by Danny Schechter