Steven Van Zandt is perhaps best known for his music and for appearing in “The Sopranos”, but he has also had a noticeable effect on politics and activism.
The 70-year-old musician is known to have created politically-themed music in his solo career after temporarily leaving Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. In 1985, he created Artists United Against Apartheid, a group of musicians who refused to perform at the Sun City Resort in South Africa in opposition to apartheid.
The group – which included Springsteen, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Pat Benatar, Peter Gabriel, Bono and many more – created the song “Sun City” as a symbol of their opposition to apartheid. The air was intended to raise awareness of the issue in order to spur governments around the world to take action.
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During an appearance Friday on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Van Zandt opened up about his fight against the apartheid system, receiving praise from the talk show host for working to change the world.
“It was a lot of people involved, not just us, the Four Musketeers – me, Danny Schechter, Arthur Baker and Hart Perry – but it was really the United Nations for all unions in Europe. It was a big movement.” , he added. he said. “We lit that spark, we lit the fuse.”
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Maher went on to point out that a number of stars performed at the resort at the time – a list that includes Cher, Elton John and more. But Van Zandt defended his colleagues.
“We made a decision: let’s assume they were manipulated, which they were,” the rocker said of the musicians who performed there. “Let us not have infighting among the music people.”
He added that he wanted to keep “an eye on the ball because we had a bigger goal in mind.”
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Their goal was ultimately to “raise enough awareness” to see sanctions imposed on South Africa, urging them to end apartheid.
The star said he expected then-President Ronald Reagan to veto the bill “because he was part of that unholy trinity supporting apartheid – him, [then-British Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher and [then-German leader Helmut] Kohl.”
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He noted that the “cultural boycott” of Sun City that he helped initiate followed a “sports boycott” of the region. The boycotts were followed by economic sanctions.
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“Once out, [Reagan] vetoed it and we overrode the veto because we had so awakened consciousness, ”Van Zandt recalled. “Republicans voted for. … Republicans voting so black people can vote? “