catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 14 :: 2004.09.10 — 2004.09.23


The "Amandla!" of song

With two individuals in our house attending a Mennonite college and taking various classes on peace theology and reconciliation, it?s no wonder South African apartheid, its practice and demise, is often a topic of discussion, reading and film. The most recent perspective was lent by the film Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, which explores how black South African freedom music was woven in and through and around the various stages of the oppressive political situation. Freedom music grew out of the tendency of the African people to use songs like living Psalms, expressing every part of their being throughout every day and bringing them closer to their Creator.

Amandla! illuminates what seems to be a truism for every oppressed group of people, that music is integral to survival and therefore, in keeping the despised ones alive (body and soul), a form of subversion. One singer in the film talks about how the whites were so charmed by the appealing, rhythmic singing of blacks, while the lyrics were essentially saying, ?We?re going to kill you, you?re going to die slowly, be careful what you say.? The intensity of the violence in the songs raises the question of whether the hatred blacks felt for whites is the moral equivalent of the murder and torture perpetrated by whites against blacks.

Eventually, whites realized what amandla (the Zhosa word for ?power?) lay in the songs of black Africans and the ten years of repression of dissension that followed Nelson Mandela?s imprisonment was simultaneously a repression of song. I?ll leave the question of whether song returned to South Africa to be answered by those who see the film, but do take the opportunity to see it if you can find it. After seeing Amandla!, I can?t imagine hearing the story of black South Africa?s emergence from apartheid without some mention of the music that was so important a part of the revolution. The film gives faces and voices to some of the revolution?s most effective rebels: the singers and musicians who wrote and performed the music of the black South African soul. It is indeed as though, as the film alludes, the insistent song of the people broke down the walls of Pretoria like Jericho.

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