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Apartheid film evokes spirituality through song

Mills College Weekly

In South Africa, a crowd gathers around the grave of a teenage girl, one of many to die as a result of a fight for freedom. The people honor her in the traditional way-through song. Without rehearsal they sing “Senzeni Na?,” which translates as asking what they have done to deserve oppression. It is both beautiful and sad.

This is one of many powerful scenes in the documentary “Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony. Amandla!,” directed by Lee Hirsch, traces the role of black South African freedom music in the battle against apartheid, the rule of the English minority over the black natives.

The film not only covers the history of apartheid, but also deals with music’s spirituality and power to unite and inspire.

“Song is something that we communicate to the people who otherwise would not have understood where we were coming from,” said musician Sisfiso Ntuli. “Give them a long political speech and they would still not understand, but I tell you, when you finish that song people be like ‘I know where you guys are coming from,’ Death unto apartheid.”

The film took nine years to produce and consists of a variety of individuals who share their experiences in both fights and songs, while identifying many musical heroes, like Vuyisile Mini.

Mini composed songs that voiced the thoughts of the people, such as “Beware Verwoerd,” in which he warns Hendrik Verwoerd, a major supporter of the apartheid, that his day will come to an end.

The struggle is portrayed beautifully through the sound of the music. The songs range from comical and spirit-lifting, to angry and determined, such as in the “Toyi-Toyi,” a powerful chant accompanied by dance and used to intimidate the guards and peace officers.

“Amandla!” expresses the determination and hopefulness of the people’s fight for freedom with its array of interviews and variety of sounds.

It is a movie worth seeing, both for its informative history and for its beautiful music.