Paul Simon traveled to South Africa in 1985 and recorded with various local musicians, gathering tracks that would be used on the Graceland album. While he was there, he met with the leader of a vocal group called Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and he flew them to London to record the song "Homeless." Simon and the group bonded at these sessions, and when Paul was finishing the album in New York, he brought them in to back him on his Saturday Night Live appearance on May 10, 1986. Also in town for the show were some of the musicians he recorded with in South Africa, including guitarist Ray Phiri, bass player Bakithi Kumalo and drummer Isaac Mtshali. This was quite an experience for these musicians, who lived under the racist Apartheid rule in their home country. Getting picked up in limos driven by white men was a culture shock. When they asked about visiting Central Park, Simon had to explain that they didn't need a permit - they could just walk in.
The album was originally scheduled for release that spring, but was pushed back to August. Simon figured, "Well, we're all here, we might as well do another track." Simon worked up the song with Ladysmith leader Joseph Shabalala, and they recorded it at the Hit Factory in New York.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo sing in Zulu on this track. Their refrain roughly translates to: "It's not usual but in our days we see those things happen. They are women, they can take care of themselves."
Youssou N'dour, who is a popular singer from Senegal, also performed on this track.
If you're looking for a social statement or deeper meaning in the lyrics, you might be disappointed. Paul Simon considered writing political songs for Graceland, but decided against it, since he wasn't very good at it and the point of the project was to bring the sound of South Africa to the world, not the politics. He worked very hard to lace the lyrics around the tracks, which was tricky since there was so much going on in the rhythms. The result on this song was a lot of clever wordplay and an abstract story about a rich girl in New York City and her suitors. A clue that there might not be too deep a meaning here is in the line, "and I could say 'ooo ooo ooo' as if everybody knows what I'm talking about."
This song marked the first time Ladysmith Black Mambazo sang with musicians - all their previous recordings were a cappella. By then, they were comfortable with Simon and having a great time, which showed when they sang this with Simon on Saturday Night Live, which turned out to be one of the most memorable performances in the history of the show. Introduced by Robin Williams, the group backed Simon with a joyfully choreographed stage moves and their unique vocal sound, and it brought the house down. Ladysmith became very popular, and Simon produced their next album, which was their first one released in America. They accompanied Simon on the Graceland tour and built a big enough following to tour on their own outside of South Africa in ensuing years.
Simon mentions this song as one of his best musical achievements. He says the song suits his voice very well.