Punk In Africa (2011) – film review

Punk In Africa (2011)
Directors: Keith Jones, Deon Maas
Writers: Deon Maas, Keith Jones
Stars: Paulo Chibanga, Michael Fleck and Ivan Kadey

Punk In Africa documents the time in South Africa’s history when apartheid, civil war and oppression was rife & when an underground punk scene sprung up as a way for people to express their opposition to such. Our man Kevin Robinson recently saw the documentary at the Open City Docs Fest at SOAS in London film festival & reviews it for us below.

“Louder!” shout several voices from the rear of the lecture theatre as someone battles heroically with the controls of a DVD player. It seems a reasonable request. This is punk after all, just a chapter in its history which has, until now, remained untold. Just as punk in the UK grew out of social deprivation and disillusionment and led to the proliferation of a DIY ethos, in Southern Africa the first multi-racial punk bands formed in the chaotic aftermath of the Soweto Uprising, their very existence risking possible imprisonment and brutal torture. These musicians were inspired by their African identity and indigenous musical traditions, as well as their Ramones and Sex Pistols bootlegs. Punk In Africa documents a growing subculture during eras of apartheid, civil war and oppression, when opposition to institutionalised racism and resistance of totalitarian regimes could have violent repercussions (“They could make you disappear,” as one interviewee chillingly describes).

The first rumblings of a punk scene in the so-called Dark Continent emerged in the form of underground rock acts like Suck, an early ’70s politicised protopunk band, who were banned from performing after their concerts provoked rioting. They are included on this terrific compilation of vintage South African garage, psychedelia and township funk.

The film’s archive footage is assembled in a way which matches the scrapbook visual aesthetic of punk. Appeals from the film makers via social media, predominantly Facebook, unearthed a bewildering amount of artefacts in the form of photos, flyers, 7″ sleeves, taped interviews, home movies and fragments of live recordings. In addition, there are fresh interviews with the prime movers from the late 70’s/early 80’s period, astonishingly as much of a fertile ground for musical experimentation across Southern Africa as it was in the West.

Wild Youth from Durban were amongst the first punks to play shows, release material and tour the country. They took inspiration from Iggy’s ‘Raw Power’ when most of their peers only listened to the Eagles or John Travolta. National Wake were a dissident band of multi-racial composition formed in Johannesburg who mixed primitive rock, reggae, and African percussion into their sound, and defied the authoritarian state’s laws of segregation by rehearsing and living together in an illegal commune and touring with fake documentation. There were Asylum Kids, whose anti-government stance led to gigs being tear-gassed and broken up by police. Power Age were a pivotal band of the 80’s hardcore scene who railed against apartheid, as well as white supremacist and neo-fascist organisations like the AWB, and the vocalist managed to rile the authorities with a pink Mohawk. The Genuines were a Cape Town based ”Ëœgoema punk’ band who played traditional Cape Malay music in a punk-inspired style as fast as was humanly possible. The Kalahari Surfers fronted by enigmatic dub artist Warrick Sony were pioneers who used sampling with Shangaan basslines on protest records such as ”ËœBigger Than Jesus’, which was subsequently banned or being too politically radical. Other equally fascinating participants included House Wives Choice from Cape Town, The Safari Suits, Koos, Screaming Foetus, Gay Marines and Leopard.

This mix tape features many of the artists featured in the film:

Finally, the film follows punk’s evolution and the rise of more celebratory, 2-Tone influenced ska bands through the democratic era of the 1990’s to the present day. These include Cape Town’s ska-punks Hog Hoggidy Hog, Johannesburg’s Afrocentric Swivel Foot, the dub influenced Mozambican band 340ml, the surf and skate culture fixated Sibling Rivalry, Evicted – a Zimbabwean band who mix elements of grunge, hard rock and traditional chimurenga music, Fokofpolisiekar, Fuzigish”¦ the list is seemingly endless.

This is an enlightening film which goes some way to giving these brave, rebellious men and women long overdue recognition. Despite incessant surveillance and harassment from the authorities, they used music to convey their anger, frustration and determination for political change. This music, broadcast only via a network of fanzines and tape-trading, helped pave the way for a youth revolution, leading to rules and regulations gradually being relaxed, and eventually the collapse of the apartheid regime.

All words and images by Kevin Robinson. More articles by Kevin can be found here. You can follow him on Twitter.

Previous articleStone Roses : the best after show party in town is here
Next articleFixers: We’ll Be The Moon – album review
Kevin Robinson gained a formidable reputation as a DJ in numerous indie club nights since the 90’s, and been a correspondent and reviewer for several music publications. He lives in London and currently presents new music programmes for the John Peel inspired Dandelion Radio, and Shoreditch Radio. http://www.dandelionradio.com/kevin.htm http://shoreditchradio.co.uk/show/planet-of-sound/ http://www.mixcloud.com/KevinRobinsonDJ/ Twitter: @kevinrobinsondj



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here