Sun City was a resort in South Africa that catered to wealthy white tourists. Many famous entertainers performed there despite the racist Apartheid policy. Artists United Against Apartheid was organized by "Little Steven" Van Zandt, who discovered Sun City when he traveled to Africa after leaving Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band in 1985.
Van Zandt considered naming artists who played the Sun City resort in the song, but decided not to. He asked them to participate in the project instead.
Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Run-D.M.C., Lou Reed, Bonnie Raitt, Bono, Melle Mel, Keith Richards, Jackson Browne, and George Clinton are some of the 54 artists who contributed to the song. A mix of music styles, including rap, rock, and jazz were incorporated.
This was one of the first collaborations among major recording stars to support a political, rather than a social cause. The project raised over $1 million dollars for anti-Apartheid efforts.
Hip-Hop pioneer Kurtis Blow was one of the musicians who performed on this. He told us about the experience:
"That was a blessing, just incredible. Stevie calls everybody together. He calls me up and says, 'Hey I want you to do this song about the plight in South Africa. We're not going to play Sun City and we want everybody to know about the injustices that are going on down there. We need to let everyone know that we're not happy and we're not going to play in South Africa until things are changed over there.' Stevie Van Zandt was united in this thing. We jumped at the chance to be a part of it. It was too strong a cause for us to turn down. Then you have this white cat who's doing it, this is really what America stands for. A lot of people opened their eyes when that song came out."
This was recorded at a series of sessions in 4 cities as artists would come by and contribute what they could, often improvising in their own styles. While most of the musicians didn't record together, many of them got together for the video, which was shot in different places around New York City.
The project was originally going to be one song, but some of the musicians contributed other pieces, making it into a full length album.
Most radio stations refused to play this because it did not fit a specific format and was politically sensitive.
The legacy of this song is that it helped expose Apartheid, a system of forced discrimination in South Africa. Apartheid ended there in 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison.