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Steppin' into the Screen | This is National Wake

A narrative born amidst the stifling grip of political oppression, the tale of National Wake is one that demands to be unveiled, enlightening you to the undercurrent of musical expression in a frustrated apartheid state. 

‘If you think life is difficult for your band, think what it’s like for National Wake’

Screening on the 22nd of May at Melkweg, tickets available here.

The symbiotic relationship between music and self-expression is something everyone can relate to. Whether you're the frontman of a punk group, conducting an orchestra, or alone in your room with headphones on; music is our ally. It gives us the tools to say the things we cannot say, transcending boundaries, cultures, and languages - speaking out the human experience. The story of National Wake showcases this relationship in its rawest form. 

Using largely archival footage and voice-overs, the documentary is an extremely intimate depiction of South Africa’s first and only multi-racial punk band. Told through the perspectives of the portrayed, this story is not to be confused as a triumphant tale, but one that exposes the true struggle of self-expression. Guiding us chronologically through the group's journey, we witness their evolution from inception:  emerging from a Johannesburg commune in the aftermath of the Soweto uprising of 1976, to their unfortunate dissolution just prior to the end of apartheid.

Four individuals - Ivan Kadey, Gary Khoza, Punka Khoza, Steve Moni, (with later additions Mike Lebesi and Paul Giraud) came together to create their own ‘bubble of freedom’, in a place where simply their existence as a band was illegal - they strived to maintain an identity, that was free. 

While the era witnessed the emergence of numerous multiracial, politically charged groups worldwide, the significance of National Wake's existence within South Africa adds a profound layer of detriment to the group. 

Perhaps best described by the voice of a British news broadcaster featured in the documentary:

‘...a record from that rarest of all things a multi-racial band from South Africa - as you can imagine there aren't many of those. They’ve got an LP out on Warner Brothers records and it is an indication of the way things are - that in fact by actually existing together as a band living under the same roof they’re breaking the law, furthermore, the company that printed the sleeve of the record refused to print the lyrics of one of the songs because it was too political.’

The film doesn't shy away from showcasing group's challenges, yet remains remarkably heartwarming to watch. Enchanting scenes of eclectic dance floors, showing how the band represented a feeling that was not limited to the stage, with the reality of having one released album of which only 500 copies were pressed, the documentary continuously see-saws with hope. The beauty of the music is constantly juxtaposed with stories of the difficulties the group faced, as a viewer you also end up absorbing the feelings of frustration. A narrative that surpasses the confines of conventional happy endings the phrase ‘right people wrong time’ has never been so apt.

“When we were dancing there was no apartheid” - Ivan Kadey

Describing their fate as ‘bypassing the moon’ the story of National Wake carries a heavy weight. Yet, this documentary serves as a testament to the significance of reviving forgotten narratives. By granting National Wake's moment to be revisited, their tale gains a new voice and resonance; the story can be re-told, and this time, heard. 


Steppin' Into Tomorrow stands with artists & labels and encourages listeners to support them by buying their music directly from Bandcamp. If you've enjoyed this article, please consider subscribing to our monthly newsletter to stay in the loop.


James Brown
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