"Under African Skies" as written by and Paul Simon....
Joseph's face was black as night
The pale yellow moon shone in his eyes
His path was marked
By the stars in the Southern Hemisphere
And he walked his days
Under African skies

This is the story of how we begin to remember
This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein
After the dream of falling and calling your name out
These are the roots of rhythm
And the roots of rhythm remain

In early memory
Mission music
Was ringing 'round my nursery door
I said take this child, Lord
From Tucson Arizona
Give her the wings to fly through harmony
And she won't bother you no more

This is the story of how we begin to remember
This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein
After the dream of falling and calling your name out
These are the roots of rhythm
And the roots of rhythm remain

Joseph's face was as black as the night
And the pale yellow moon shone in his eyes
His path was marked
By the stars in the Southern Hemisphere
And he walked the length of his days
Under African skies


Lyrics submitted by dank

"Under African Skies" as written by Paul Simon

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Lyrics powered by LyricFind


Under African Skies song meanings
Add your thoughts

29 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +1
    General CommentThis song gives me the sensation of walking amongst the wildlife of Africa, without all the animal attacks.
    TonyRo2on February 04, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI always thought the line was "this is the story of how we FORGET to remember" not begin. But I could be wrong. If I am, then that makes me sad because I loved that line... :(
    thelesserthreaton July 09, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI am almost sure that the Joseph Paul Simon is referring to is the late Joseph Shabalala, of Lady Smith Black Mambazo, whom Paul Simon helped bring to America. I think he was touched by Joseph's soulful music. I think this song may refer to Joseph's idea of gifts that we choose when we are still in the womb and God breathes into us, but that's my own interpretation. I may be wrong.
    Simonfanon August 03, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI'm guessing that Paul Simon may have had all three "Josephs" in mind when he wrote the song. And I believe his thesis in the song is that Jewish and African American cultures are joined at the roots.

    As a Jewish kid growing up in New York City next to Blacks and Latins and Italians, at a time when there was still come solidarity between the Jewish and Black communities (this was during the civil rights movement), Simon belonged to a long tradition of Jewish musicians who felt a kinship with Black musicians, from Al Jolson and George Gershwin to Bob Dylan and Carole King.

    It's likely that both Biblical "Josephs" were dark-skinned, if not "black as night," and they both "walked their days under African skies" as exiles in Egypt. Not the first time African and Semitic cultures touched, and certainly not the last.

    The clue to this interpretation is the second verse, which I read as another link between two strains of religious "roots music." The woman singing is Linda Ronstadt, a Mexican-American woman who grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and tells the same story about her girlhood that Paul Simon tells in the song "Late in the Evening," that listening to music, from Catholic hymns and Mariachi Canciones, to Black Gospel, C&W, R&B and Brill-building Pop, "pulled her through," giving her the courage to leave her hometown. (She finally came back, but that's a different story.)

    So Graceland is "the story of how we begin to remember," the common roots of our different musical traditions, which have their origins in "the powerful pulsing of love in the vein," a love both physical (as in "sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll"), and spiritual, as in the ecstatic chants of the earliest religions.

    For the meaning of "the dream of falling," see my notes on "An American Tune."
    tappankingon November 16, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commenta thoughtful song
    blusapphireon January 26, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthe chorus is tres magnifique
    emma.leeon March 12, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthe harmonies in this are beautiful . . .
    jett007on June 11, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General Commenthis entire 'Graceland' album holds a special place in my heart as I was actually born in Africa (and hence, under African skies!) ... the melodies and background vocals in this song are musically some of the finest ever produced; and though I'm Canadian I can't help but feel a stirring in my blood whenever i hear the drums and beats of my "home"
    Judo_yehhon January 09, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHasn't anyone thought about the link to the Bible? I don't mean to sound like some kind of preacher but I really think that this could be about Joseph's journey to Bethlehem. They travelled through the night ("His path was marked By the stars...", "The pale yellow moon"), he was worried about the baby ("Joseph's face was black as night "), it mentions the dream that he had about leaving Mary ("After the dream of falling and calling your name out "), and "This is the story of how we begin to remember" could be talking about the things the prophets said about Jesus coming.

    Also, there is a woman singing with him on this track which could be meant to represent Mary...

    Well don't worry if it's totally wrong, just ignore me, I'm only a humble Queen fan that got lost on the way to their page... :P
    mercury_girl86on March 05, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentMercury_Girl -> you quoted the line "his path marked by the stars..." as possibly meaning Joseph following the stars on his way to Bethlehem, but the second part of the line says "stars in the southern hemisphere", which would back up the title "under Arican Skies" as opposed Bethlehem which is in the northern hemisphere. So I'm thinking it's probably not a biblical reference... interesting interpretation though. The whole album is very deep lyrically, and I think many of the songs are open to a lot of different interpretations.
    shawn101on June 29, 2005   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top
explain