Punk in Africa is the first documentary of its kind.
It covers the rise of punk rock music in South Africa beginning in the late ‘70s and highlights the evolution of punk rock through the decades after in countries like Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Directors Keith Jones and Deon Maas, along with producer Jefe Brown, present a stirring and sincere film that makes one look differently at punk rock and its reactionary nature, but also about the relationship it can build with its surrounding cultures to create a truly unique movement.
The 1970s in South Africa were a very tumultuous time.
Black citizens, even though they were the majority, live under apartheid, the systematic segregation of races.
Every aspect of South African life was segregated, including housing, education and beaches.
In June 1976 the student uprising in Soweto against proposed changes in education left almost 500 students dead at the hands of the police.
There was civil war in Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. These were the circumstances in which people lived.
“The struggle of black kids in Soweto, and the struggle of white kids to understand why they didn’t want to go into the army and kill people. This kind of met and out came this type of music,” said Benjy Mudie, executive producer of South African groups like National Wake and Asylum Kids.
The film does an excellent job in establishing the context of the South African punk scene.
The footage of the riots in Soweto and conflicts in Angola adds to the sense of instability at the time, the feeling that anything could happen.
There is very little narration in the film and that fact serves it well. The interview with the people at the forefront of the scene, including Michale Flek of Wild Youth and Rubin Rose of Powerage, are more than capable of carrying the story along.
To convey the identity of the scene, Jones used as much audience footage as possible.
A prime example is the footage of a National Wake show in which the band and concert goers were in complete accord.
Men, women, black and white dancing together in an air of joyous rebellion.
“All the rules about black and white people actually socializing, it was draconian and it was a mine field,” said Ivan Kadey of National Wake, one of the first multi-racial punk bands in South Africa. “We just sort of stepped out way through.”
National Wakes very existence was a rebellious act.
They didn’t do it with bricks and molotovs, they did it with colors and rhythms.
The soundtrack of the film is absolutely amazing. It consists of original recordings of some of the bands that appear in the film like Wild Youth, Powerage and Koos.
Any arguments that the punk in South Africa was just an echo of what was going on in the rest of the world will be quickly put to rest after watching the film.
Bands such as National Wake and The Genuines broke the wall between punk rock and traditional african rhythms.
The latter half of the film covers punk bands that emerged after 1994 from Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Bands such as Hog Hogiddy Hog and Fuzigish meld the frantic sounds of punk and ska with traditional ghoema music to create something truly African.
The question of what is African is discussed with these bands and is a theme in some of their music.
Songs like Hog Hoggidy Hogs’ “African Son” deal with the issue of looking like you don’t belong, but embracing your culture.
Punk in Africa demonstrates that the punk scene there was not humming along to the tunes of the rest of the world.
They couldn’t afford to. This was not Reagan’s America or Thatcher’s England.
Their unique circumstances forced to to create a sub-genre that is unique. The film shows the organic growth and creativity with the people in the early scene and the bands that carry the banner now.
This just isn’t punk in Africa, this is punk from Africa.