Apartheid Videosby Andy Davis / 23.06.2011
Now that we have a hotline to the Parlotones, a little red handset in Kahn’s bedroom known as the “Mahala Phone”, we thought we’d call him about the recent brouhaha surrounding their video for the single “Should we Fight Back?” The song is probably the Parlotones most overtly political offering to date. A welcome shift for those of us who cannot stomach the saccharine soft-cock-pop-rock dribbling of their previous productions. But is this the musical version of the old DA slogan?
The band courted further controversy when they canned the original big budget (in South African terms) music video for making, uh, “too big a statement” and relying on some rather “limp clichés”. We just had to hit the speed-dial and get Kahn on the line.
“Should We Fight Back?” What’s the song all about?
The song was inspired by Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. During Apartheid the ANC (for many years) adopted a policy of passive resistance inspired by Gandhi’s passive resistance movement that ultimately brought about revolutionary change in India leading to India’s independence. The ANC followed this policy despite the oppressive and sometimes violent actions of the ruling party at the time. The notion of resisting retaliation amongst those conditions must have made people feel totally worthless (devoid of self-respect and pride), such as the events that unfolded at the Sharpeville Massacre. I can imagine being heart broken if my loved ones and I were being continuously victimized and having to practice restraint by “turning the other cheek”. For so long this policy never worked and Mandela himself fought with the leaders (of the ANC) at the time to allow for a policy of fighting violence with violence. However even then their policy of fighting with violence was admirable as it involved using sabotage to invoke inconvenience and panic rather than inflict any harm on another human being, such as bombing a railway track at night during downtime. The song flits between documenting those events and just being purely inspirational on a metaphorical level, we’re often faced with internal battles or life struggles where we often contemplate quitting. Madiba’s story certainly motivates me because he was unwavering in his dreams and ideals despite what seemed an improbable struggle but yet achieved great things, if he managed to stay motivated our daily struggles seem miniscule. The Long Walk to Freedom is certainly ten times more inspirational than any self-help book could ever pretend to be.
It’s quite unusual for you guys to make music that’s so overtly political. Why the sudden change?
I’ve always felt that music should be a cathartic experience. My whole life in South Africa has been a political overload. It’s been exciting knowing that I’m living in a very significant and beautiful part of South African history, blemishes and all, but I’ve always felt that people are tired of hearing about it and usually the emphasis is skewed towards the negative, with all the “if it bleeds it leads” headlines. So I’ve always tried to write escapist type music, music that doesn’t deny that the human experience is marred with ups and downs but that the experience itself is a gift and that even though we experience pitfalls there is much to celebrate. However we are all a product of our environment and we’re moulded by a collection of adventures, so growing up in Joburg it’s only obvious that the political landscape will bleed into my consciousness and then my song writing, which is an extension of self, observation of surroundings and basically social commentary. It’s not our only political song, previous ones include: “Lets start a fight”, “RadioContolledRobot” (social commentary), “Pointing fingers” on this current album Stardust Galaxies songs that contain political and social undertones are: “Welcome to the weekend”, “Remember when…”, “Brighter side of hell” but I guess you wouldn’t know this because you’ve probably never judged us on an entire body of work but rather on the radio singles.
In the original video there’s a whole then and now scenario – showing the struggles of apartheid in contrast to today – is that the point you were trying to make there? And how does that relate to the message of the song?
To be honest it was the director’s creation. Although the quality was good we didn’t like the finished product and felt it never really achieved what it set out to achieve and so we scrapped it. We felt it tried to make too big a statement in too little time by borrowing on rather limp cliché’s, it didn’t quite elevate. The director is brilliant and has created some excellent videos but for us this one didn’t quite work. We then filmed another video that rather reflects the social problems of the universal world today; the imagery is largely inspired by the works of Banksy and like-minded artists who provide a wealth of social commentary in one visual display. We got a lot of flack (possibly from the friends of the crew, cast and the director) for not using the initial one but it’s ultimately our product and if we feel we don’t like it we should not be obligated to use it on the basis that we may hurt someone’s feelings.
Did you know that “Fight Back” was the slogan of the DA when Tony Leon was in charge and it was largely seen as being oppositional and negative and personifying the position of “liberal” white privilege. As far as political campaigns go it bombed… did you want to tie into that?
Now that you bring it up I do remember but I assume based on my previous answer that you’re aware that this slogan was in NO way the inspiration behind the song.
Check the official video below:
And read our in depth Parlotones interview here.