Simon started recorded this song in South Africa, where he worked with local musicians and experimented with their sounds. He recorded with many different musicians while he was there, and he loved the work of the guys from a local group called Stimela, whose guitarist Ray Phiri came up with the riff for this song during one of their jam sessions. These recordings were edited together in New York by Simon's producer Roy Halee - a monumental task in the age of analog recording, since in South Africa, they rolled a lot of tape that Halee had to sort out with a series of splices.
The lyrics contain some intricate wordplay that Simon wrote very carefully around the track, and the character in the song symbolic of his South Africa experience. At the time, South Africa was divided by Apartheid, a policy that separated blacks and whites, and a cultural boycott was in place (check out the Songfacts on "Sun City
"). Simon defied this boycott and went anyway, taking a lot of heat for his actions - even though his intentions were good, many black leaders in South Africa felt that any violation of the boycott hindered their cause. Because of the boycott, music from the area was secluded, and when Simon released Graceland
, he brought the music of the country to the world. In the documentary Under African Skies
, Simon explained: "'You Can Call Me Al' is really the story of somebody like me, who goes to Africa with no idea and ends up having an extraordinary spiritual experience."