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Documentary 'This is National Wake' Tells Story Of South African Punk Pioneers National Wake

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act February 19, 2014 at 1:30PM

Documentary 'This is National Wake' Tells Story Of South African Punk Pioneers National Wake
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National Wake

From filmmaker Mirissa Neff comes the in-production documentary This is National Wake, an ITVS (PBS's Independent Lens) grant recipient, which tells the story of South African punk pioneers National Wake. 

The short story:

In the spring of 1979, Johannesburg, South Africa, was a city wracked by racial strife. Three years earlier, a student uprising in the black township of Soweto had made headlines worldwide; the revolt’s black protesters, and their white sympathizers, seethed at a society that would keep them separate and unequal for another 11 years. That spring, a new Johannesburg band gave their anger a sound. That band was National Wake. Formed by Ivan Kadey and brothers Gary and Punka Khoza, the band’s exhilarating brand of afro-rock joined a punk sensibility with reggae riffs, offering a Soweto-inflected take on the mix that UK phenoms like The Police and The Clash rode to global fame.  archival footage shot on Super 8 in Johannesburg’s underground clubs, But what was perhaps most distinctive was their color. At a time and place where even speaking with someone of another race was illegal, National Wake was a multi-racial band: Ivan was white, and Gary and Punka were black. ThroughThis is National Wake will reveal the idealistic, colorblind scene National Wake’s music inspired, and the protest stance inherent to their sound. 

I unfortunately can't claim to be fully informed on the band, and I'm certainly interested in learning much more, which Neff's documentary will assist with. It's not often one hears the words "punk pioneers" and "South Africa" in the same sentence. Color me curious.

Last fall, the band's only album was re-released to much acclaim, and the filmmakers captured all the action live and direct.

In spring 2014, Neff will travel back to South Africa with band founder Ivan Kadey to unravel the band's legacy, and find out what led to the group's eventual demise, as they reunite with families and fans of the band, and seek out those who were pro-apartheid, who helped suppress the band's voice.

Viewed from today, over 20 years since apartheid was finally destroyed, and in the months following Nelson Mandela’s death, National Wake’s story resonates as a potent herald of what Mandela once envisioned for the “new South Africa.” The world is finally ready for National Wake!

A Kickstarter campaign has been set up raise funds to help complete the project, with the goal being to raise $6,000, which will go towards travel to South Africa this spring (2014) for further coverage.

With about 2 weeks to go, Just under $3,000 has been raised as of the time of this post, so the campaign is about half-way to meeting its goal. If you'd like to contribute, watch the pitch video below, and click HERE to donate to the project, or within the widget below (FYI: you will find lots of footage of the band on YouTube):


This article is related to: Fundraising


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