New Documentary Brings You Inside Africa’s Little-Known Punk Rock Scene

Punk rock has died a thou­sand deaths in the West.  Almost as soon as the mass media picked it up, punk split into sev­er­al hun­dred sub­species and spawned oth­er monoliths—post-punk, new wave, “alter­na­tive.” Giv­en that his­to­ry, it’s gen­er­al­ly assumed—a cou­ple gen­er­a­tions of sub­ur­ban mall­rats aside—that the orig­i­nal move­ment flashed and failed, over­tak­en by key­boards and drum machines, cor­po­rate greed and nar­cis­sism. But that his­to­ry is incom­plete. As a recent Guardian head­line pro­claims, punk rock is “alive and kick­ing in a repres­sive state near you.” The cause célèbre of inter­na­tion­al punk is, of course, Russia’s Pussy Riot, three of whose mem­bers were con­vict­ed of “hooli­gan­ism” and sent to labor camps. But dis­si­dent punk scenes thrive under the radar in many oth­er places hos­tile to dis­sent, such as Bur­ma, Indone­sia, and Chi­na.

And while the con­tem­po­rary phe­nom­e­non of glob­al punk makes for fas­ci­nat­ing news sto­ries, a new doc­u­men­tary, Punk in Africa, demon­strates that inter­na­tion­al punk rock is as old as the West­ern vari­ety. It just nev­er got the same press. In South Africa, short­ly after the 1976 Sowe­to Upris­ing, mul­ti-racial punk bands began to form, with names like Gay Marines, Nation­al Wake, and Scream­ing Foe­tus. Meet­ing and per­form­ing under the pall of Apartheid, these bands defied laws against racial mix­ing and braved con­stant harass­ment by police. As one mem­ber of Nation­al Wake says in the trail­er above, “the vice squad would vis­it us, some­times three times in one day.” He calls the racial ter­ri­to­ry the band had to nav­i­gate a “mine­field.”

A lot of the Afrop­unk fea­tured in the film is rem­i­nis­cent of the meet­ing of black and white sounds and musi­cians in Eng­land, espe­cial­ly in bands like The Clash, The Beat and The Spe­cials. Lat­er African ska bands like Hog Hog­gi­ty Hog and The Rudi­men­tals cer­tain­ly car­ry on that tra­di­tion. But many of the bands profiled—from South Africa, Zim­bab­we, and Mozambique—melded raw punk ener­gy with African polyrhythms and dis­tinc­tive local sounds and instru­men­ta­tion. Nation­al Wake pro­vides a good exam­ple of such hybridiza­tion. The live per­for­mance above even includes a drum solo—anathema to most West­ern punk rock.

Punk in Africa promis­es to add some nec­es­sary bal­ance to the slew of punk his­to­ries that focus only on Britain and the U.S.. In the inter­view above, one of the documentary’s direc­tors, Deon Maas, points out that the “punk thing in Africa” start­ed vir­tu­al­ly weeks after its U.K. cousin, first in imi­ta­tion, then as a true move­ment in its own right. Like the inter­na­tion­al punk scenes bur­geon­ing around the world today, it’s a move­ment that deserves to be heard.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The His­to­ry of Punk Rock

Russ­ian Punk Band, Sen­tenced to Two Years in Prison for Derid­ing Putin, Releas­es New Sin­gle

Rare Live Footage Doc­u­ments The Clash From Their Raw Debut to the Career-Defin­ing Lon­don Call­ing

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.