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Punk In Africa

by Luke Mason / 08.08.2011

It’s the day after Punk in Africa premiered to the world and the entire stool-warming team of the Winston Pub. One of the stalwart members of Durban’s new wave drunk-punks updates his Facebook status proclaiming Punk in Africa to be the most epic piece of documentary film making in history, ever. Hung-over and sardonic after the debaucheries of the film’s after-party, I flippantly comment: “I thought it was pretty crap”. A day later, Keith Jones, one of the directors, pulls me over at a Captain Stu gig and asks, “What exactly did you think was ‘pretty crap’ about the movie I’ve been making for the last two years of my life?” Fuck you Mark Zuckerberg. It takes me more than a moment to pull my foot from my mouth. With a deep breath this is what I tell him, well a paraphrased version at least.

The film started out telling the amazing, untold story of resistance and music under the apartheid regime. Ageing punks stare wild eyed into the camera and reminisce about the days of vigour and angst, proud of what they did and the courage that it took to stand up for what they believed in, or rather, against what they didn’t. Well researched, well told, the pre-apartheid section of the movie, although not hell-of-a cinematic, is difficult to find fault with.

Punk In Africa

But then apartheid ends and the wheels fall off. The cohesive message, the unity of struggle falls away, both filmicly and in the words coming through from the interviewees. An admirable idea is replaced with a weak multiplicity and the movie begins to bounce around relatively aimlessly through the southern African music scene, focussing on musicians who, at times only very tenuously cling to the label “punk”. At this stage the lack of cinematic imagery becomes conspicuous. Instead of a group of people telling us what they did and why it mattered, we’re left hearing who people are and wondering why it matters. Obviously It’s cool to see your friends with two storey sized heads speaking down at you, but I wasn’t convinced that the image of modern South African punk music did justice to the reality. And, in my opinion, the end felt rushed.

So what you leave with is a feeling of deflation. A feeling that they went for the catchy name: Punk in Africa, when in actuality, the rest of Africa had very little to do with it. While in the beginning we saw musicians ready to put their lives on the line for their music, the movie ends with the Zimbabwean group ‘Evicted’ talking about having to change their lyrics to not get into trouble. One way to critique it would be the “punk is dead” perspective; the other would be to argue that maybe the film makers just couldn’t find it the second time around. Watch the film and decide for yourself.

Punk In Africa

Punk In Africa

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  1. Anonymous says:

    the biggest issue our local ‘current’ drunk bands have is getting drunk.
    they have nothing in common with those who used the idealologies of punk rock for a movement of change, in thinking and action. they cant claim any alliegence. They’re suburban white kids who got bored with excess and commited themselves to getting drunk as if it was a virtue. fuck those guys, what differences have they made at all? Even in changing peoples mindsets? They worry about their bottom dollar and pay cuts at the door as much as any dad rock band. the lines got blurry through alcohol a little while back, and all that came through was these entitled little shits who claim to carry the same flags as those before them, while offending everything they did through the very medium of their existence. they have no claim or right to ‘punk rock’. they just wear the uniform and hope that means they went to the school.

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  2. Andy says:

    what i love about the SA creative industries is that you can say a film is kak on facebook and have to justify your opinion to the film maker at the pub the next day…

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  3. Zam says:

    Hey anonymous. I have three words for you:
    CBGB, Ramones and The Cramps.

    All accepted, documented “punk” bands who had about as much political/social commentary as High School Musical.

    I’m in no way arguing against the local punk scene being a lot of “posers” and drunks these days, just saying punk is not JUST about revolution. That comes down to what kinda punk you like. And seeing as I know most of those guys today, they aren’t trying to change the world. They’re out to have a good time and make music accordingly.

    I don’t particularly see what too wrong with that. If you do, you should develop a hatred towards all modern music, cause most of it is like that anyway (unless you’re hipster).

    Besides, if a whole bunch of white guys sang about crime, BEE, unemployment and other middle class socio-economic problems, we’d label them as complainers or racists. Our country tends to do that to any one who speaks out.

    The truth is the disenfranchised black-majority of SA should be leading the revolutionary punk movement but with ANC brainwashing and Hip Hop’s pro-gang view point, it seems unlikely.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Then todays punks should distance themselves from the ethos of those who came before. Instead they preach and harp as if doused in the same flames of change. They’re doused and soaked in some form of spirits indeed. and urine.
    Local punk rock cant change anything anymore. It used to be a voice. Now it’s a scene. Most punk rockers today feel like they’re attached to that special air of difference from before that they carry and clout with, when they dont.
    I mean, the biggest issue i can recall of recent memory was when Half Price started claming ‘you cant keep punk rock down! fuck the system!’ cause someone didn’t want them to have a gig on a Muizemberg beach or something. Fucking fight the power. Oh yes, that and titties and beer.
    And I dont need to develop a similar hatred for all modern music, cause not all modern music assumes the mantle with the air of arrogance and entitlement that punk rock does. What punk rock bands need to realise today is that they are no different, themselves, to other modern music, genres and scenes. At all.
    Other genres party harder. Other genres care less. Other genres make more change. Other genres have more integrity. Other genres do DIY better.
    Punk Rock is a self indulgent and mentality stunted white elephant. It’s become an inbred abomination of itself.

    I’m mostly talking within the context of current and local ‘punk’ bands. They’re defined by their minimalist power chord approach and vocal style than anything else they’ve done or do. The sound or technical skills of bands used to be secondary to the message and passion. Today, it’s all these bands have to tie themselves to the genre at all, and even then it’s only a reflection of a compromised talent / sound.

    Today bands ‘sound’ punk rock. Fans dress punk rock. Both sides ‘drink’ punk rock, and everyone gets pissed and pretends they’re a part of something special and bigger than it really is. Someone needs to assume some responsibility and inject something real back into this washed out scene. Surburban white kids getting drunk as a form of rebellion doesn’t cut it.

    Ps: Also, on the topic of local punk bands: Anyone want to discuss how much coke (and other other narcotics, aside from the typical weed) gets consumed by our local punk bands? Especially the ‘bigger’ and ‘older’ ones that everybody loves to skank it up to? Cocaine. So punk rock!

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  5. Zam says:

    You sir, have a point and I completely concede. I just thought you meant ALL. Punk rock has to have some sort of anti-establishment message.

    If the bands say that’s what they are, then I agree with you because as far as I can see that’s not the message behind the music.

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  6. LexTruther says:

    Extremely well said Anonymous. Hit the nail on the effing head. So true about the drug consumption too, all you need to do is listen to Jello Biafras’ lyrics from all those years ago and he said it all then. Another thing is how homophobic the scene in SA is, how does that fit into any punk ideal? It’s fits into the ideals of the consumer, which is what the kiddies in the scene are.

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  7. Punk-O-Rama says:

    Punk has always been about posing, the Sex Pistols and Clash were as big posers as the rest of ’em. The whole British punk scene contaminated the movement, it was about looking weird, dressing for effect, and then conforming to some cult of dress, hairstyles and behaviour. What’s real punk? Maybe it’s when American kids from the blue collar side of the tracks pick up cheap guitars and try talk about the lives they lives using simple catchy tunes. They’re otherwise normal, jeans and t-shirts, no full body tats, nothing special, just the music – Alkaline Trio were once like this, Screeching Weasel too, the Methadones held the flame for a while, the Copyrights still rock. I’m not sure South Africans can do punk, just that act of imitation cheapens the whole show. It’s the guys out there just making simple guitar music for the fuck of it and not bothering with labelling themselves who probably come closest to deserving to be included in this movement.

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  8. Ho Chin Min says:

    Punk is deader than dead.

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  9. Brononymous says:

    I agree with the review, and one of my biggest gripes with the film is the title…
    I was expecting to see how punk has manifested throughout different African countries, not just in SA. Felt like the SADC stuff was thrown in just to fit in with the title.

    Also the piece on the Genuines, who are arguably the most interesting band in the whole piece, putting indigenous and ghoema rhythms into punk, were given a very small section in relation to the whole piece.

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  10. NuFF $eD says:

    Thats my dad.. and my uncle, and my aunt.. and a pic of me as a kid playing drums with my dad 😀

    True story!

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  11. When bears fight back says:

    jeezuz, that short piece i saw looked pretty darn cool. if the rest of the movie’s like that then it’s a very valid film. peeps can nitpick all they want and always will but i don’t see anthing wrong with the story.

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  12. up the punks says:

    i liked the movie alot. i thought it said alot about south african youth culture and modern politics. i also think the dude who wrote this article is someone who rates themself alot and has probably never listened to punk music in his life. poes

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