Sunday, November 25, 2012

Punk in Africa: Samantha Introduces Keith Jones

It has been a while since I have had the pleasure of gracing all of my incredible readers with an article and now I believe it is time. First and foremost, I apologize; a mental vacation and a chance to dance among neon lights with Chilean men and friends of Dorothy was desperately needed-so I set the laptop aside and went out on a few adventures.  Rest assured, I have returned to write even more interesting tales on counter culture, music and travel-cheers, salute, kompei, nazdravi!

PUNK IN AFRICA: Director Keith Jones and producer Jefe Brown
at the International Film Festiva in Innsbruck
I began my writing crusade on the South African underground music scene and I will continue now with a conversation that could easily go on for hours and days over wine and what not in Letna Park or for now Skype.  Keith Jones is one of the brilliant minds behind the documentary Punk in Africa and he is also a very good friend of mine, as I was his intern nearly 3 years ago and needless to say just as Prague opened my mind to music art and counterculture; Keith Jones opened my mind to South Africa and all that it is and all that it was. I refuse to call this piece an “interview” because the term “interview” implies some type of formality. Keith and I have been formal only once in our speaking and that was the day we first met in Prague at an Art Nouveau cafĂ© downtown where we smoked French cigarettes and drank tiny coffees from demitasse cups.

Deon Maas
(Photo by Rob Weedman)
Punk In Africa was envisioned by Keith Jones and Deon Maas after they finished their earlier documentary Durban Poison.  Keith and Deon took a road trip and started discussing the South African punk movement, and just after the conversation a piece on the Matsuli Music blog led them to discover the band National Wake, which had been formed in 1978 by guitarist Ivan Kadey and the Khoza brothers from Soweto.  The majority of the members of National Wake were at the time living illegally together in a group house despite the rule of apartheid and were often subjected to petty charges and regular harassment by local authorities.  It was the story of National Wake among many other stories that helped to mold and sculpt Punk in Africa as an essentially political story, but one told first and foremost through music. Music is at the root of the soul of African Culture, music shapes the understanding of African culture and society through its sounds and stories.

Punk In Africa has been an invaluable tool for connecting musicians from different generations. As Hog Hogg Hoggidy Hog hadn’t heard the music of National Wake or Wild Youth, Wild Youth may not have known that the Hogs existed. Through Punk in Africa, people became more connected across generations, meaning that more stories were shared, ideas understood and new friendships made.  This film helps musicians transcend and understand different generations as well as generation gaps in music.

This film also examines the situation under apartheid and what this meant to musicians and artists living under those absurd rules within Africa. Knowing the accounts of several individuals whom lived in South Africa shortly after the rule of apartheid ended I can only fathom what it was like to live with such rules while trying to create art in a society which laws refused to allow to homogenize.  Confronting apartheid is an issue that artists from around the world should take a lesson from. Art is a labour of love and courage, artists and musicians have to rebel against the norm and break the rules to create something truly inspiring.  Musicians and artists growing up under apartheid not only understood the consequences of making unique and powerful music, they also understood that this was about making something original.

Punk in Africa shows the world that drive, courage, determination and the desire to break down common rules for creativity’s sake can prove to be an exceptional combination, also when it comes down to gaining notoriety in the international film festival scene. Punk In Africa first gained press at South By Southwest 2011, and has since been at 30 different International Film Festivals including the recent New York Film Festival.  It was never about money or prestige for Jones or his co-conspirator Deon Maas, rather about telling a unique diverse and original story of the underground countercultural scenes that they not only witnessed but inhabited regularly. Jones and Maas were very careful not to fall into any clichĂ© traps with Punk In Africa; the film is 100% for Africa by Africa-keeping this mantra makes the film even more international, you do not see studded jackets and Mohawks in Punk in Africa, you hear music and understand the struggle that African culture dealt with in the times of Apartheid.

National Wake (Photo by Robin Muir)
As Keith moves forward with a new project, he will be focusing on the alternative music and culture of the '80s generation in Prague.  As Punk in Africa broke molds and challenged thoughts, opened doors and defied common societal nomenclatures, I know we can expect nothing less with Keith’s new film. 

When it comes down to art and artistic endeavors Keith and I both agree that artists must do things independently by yourself without compromise: try to experiment and never walk away from an idea. Don Letts (one of Keith’s mentors) stated “A good idea attempted is better than a bad Idea perfected” People should live without regret.  Artists don’t need structures, money or institutions to do things in independent or unique ways, it is imperative that artists find ways to make something out of nothing.

Creating great art is bound in struggle, courage and a vision-I think of apartheid, I dream of North Korea and I think of every person who stood up for their beliefs.  I contemplate the mass genocides that have plagued our global society-we who have never felt that kind of oppression may never truly grasp what guerrilla art is all about. Paying homage to every artist around the world for their ability to stand up and condemn the man is essential for any true understanding of great revolutionary art.

DVD (Czech Republic) front cover, April 2012 release

**Jones says I need to summarize this article to end it and because he is a journalism instructor through NYU in Prague he is obligated and required to tell me this nevertheless as an artist it is my job to remind him to go “fuck himself and have a nice day” which is exactly what I did. I cannot think of a better way to end this article then on that note-sort of summarizes everything now doesn’t it?


Pertinent Links:

Punk in Africa Official

Punk in Africa on Facebook

National Wake on Facebook

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