In May 1970, a full 16 years before Paul Simon released the African-flavored single “Graceland” to wide acclaim, Neil Diamond released the single “Soolaimon,” which was powered by African rhythms and backed with gospel vocals.
“Soolaimon” sat at the heart of what Diamond called “The African Trilogy (A Folk Ballet).” That piece made up all of Side 2 of the “Tap Root Manuscript” album when it was released in November 1970.
Here’s how Diamond described his inspiration in the liner notes:
“Tap Root Manuscript” was one of the first albums I ever bought, but I bought it for all the hits — “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” are on it, too — and not “The African Trilogy.”
Regardless, that second side was quite an introduction to world music, especially in 1970. There are stormy moments and quiet moments, stirring orchestration and authentic sounds, children’s choirs and Diamond’s own voice as the storyteller.
I hadn’t played it in many years, but it all came back in a rush when I put it on the turntable.
I thought you might like to hear it.
The cuts are, in order, “Childsong,” “I Am The Lion,” “Madrigal,” “Soolaimon,” “Missa,” “African Suite” and “Childsong (Reprise).”