Early in his career, singer/songwriter Elvis Costello got involved in a nasty fight with members of Bonnie Bramlett's band over a racist remark aimed at Ray Charles. That racial slur, despite a subsequent apology, marred Costello's career.
Since then, however, Costello has shown himself to be a complex songwriter with a well-deserved reputation for being politically progressive. In recently moving from Columbia to Warner Bros., Costello had a clause inserted into his contract regarding South Africa that commands respect.
His agreement, dated July 30, states, "Warner Bros. shall not exploit or authorize the exploitation of any masters hereunder on records in the Republic of South Africa until such time as WB and artist mutually agree in writing that the apartheid system has been ended in that country and has been replaced by a political system which permits majority rule."
During the last two years, there have been calls for the record industry to divest its interests in South Africa. And, thus far, little has been done. Chances are, little will be done by the labels — which is why the action Costello has taken is so important. If each artist who claims to be concerned about the repression of the black majority in South Africa (and everyone seems to give it lip service these days) were to follow this Brit's lead, then the industry would be performing a de facto divestment.
All it takes is one performer at a time taking a stance, saying no to the sale of his recordings there, to make the kind of economic and moral statement that means something. Who'll be next?