Punk in Africa, National Wake, and much more
This edition of the Friday Ripple celebrates the official releases of two projects which have been mentioned in here frequently over the past couple of years.
First of all, the 1981 debut album by pioneering South African multiracial punk-reggae band National Wake has finally had an international re-release. Secondly, the documentary film Punk In Africa is finally finished: the story of African punk rock premieres at Durban International Film Festival next month, and will be in the Czech Republic in autumn.
Part 1: National Wake
Finally, it's out! Regular readers and listeners will no doubt be familiar with this: the great lost album of the original punk rock era.
National Wake wake were a multiracial punk-reggae band in early 80s South Africa. In the height of the apartheid era, they were running a huge illegal multiracial commune in Johannesburg, and touring the country with a mobile soundsystem under fake documents. They were more dissident than most of the world's dissident bands, more antifascist than most of the world's antifascist bands. They're true punk rock legends who are long overdue a wider reappraisal.
Musically, National Wake is what punk would have sounded like if The Clash and Bad Brains had been living together in a fascist state. On their self-titled 1981 debut album Ivan Kadey (rhythm guitar/vocals), Gary Khosa (bass/vocals), Steve Moni (rhythm guitar/vocals) and Punka Khosa (drums) created a landmark in punk fusion, bringing in reggae, funk and African musical influences to create a sound whose inventiveness stands easily alongside better-known classics of the era like The Clash's London Calling and Gang of Four's Entertainment.
The original album was quickly banned by the South African regime, and disappeared into obscurity. Radio Wave's Friday Ripple got hold of a copy in 2009, and apparently we were the second radio station outside of South Africa to play it, after the BBC's John Peel in 1981. A collection of National Wake tracks reappeared later in 2009 under the title Prague Set (because the tunes reappeared in Prague – oh yes!) but now the album has been properly remastered, and reissued with bonus tracks on the 30th anniversary of its original release. Whether you're a punk fan, a reggae fan or an African music fan, the National Wake album is the album to buy this season!
So far, digital versions are on sale at CDBaby (worldwide), Amazon (Europe) and iTunes (USA). The CD version is currently only out in South Africa, on Retro Fresh, with an American CD release to follow later this summer on DMZ. You can also find even more lost National Wake classics on ReverbNation.
Because Radio Wave's Friday Ripple has explored National Wake's legacy in previous shows, this time around we can get a bit more in-depth - and ask the surviving members of the band for more detailed commentary on some of the bonus tracks on the new release. Here's what they told us:
Ivan Kadey on Black Punk Rockers (live):
“It was a benefit concert at Wits University Great Hall, for a guy who'd become paralysed... We performed as a 3-piece, drum-bass-guitars, with Mike Lebisi on cowbell... And on that is Black Punk Rockers - it's the only time it was ever recorded. It's a song that wasn't carried forward into our later group, the actual line-up with Steve, we evolved a whole other set of songs, but I had this fragment on a cassette. And I think, really, one of the most precious tracks I have. It actually brings the spirit of Gary and Punka and what we were actually doing. The whole idea of just coming out and saying what we felt, just proclaiming our right to get up there and speak.”
Steve Moni on Mercenaries (removed from the original LP by a panicking record company):
“It was the kind of hot potato that you weren't supposed to touch in those days... It was part of South Africa - an element of South African society, in terms of the white society, projecting itself outside of South Africa and engaging itself in various dirty wars. And so, South Africa's image as a proponent of dirty wars - trying to keep Africa under wraps, trying to suppress liberation movements, trying to suppress democracy and so on at that time. It wasn't ordered by the government, but it was definitely a knock-on, it was part of that ethos. So I found that fascinating to look into.”
Ivan Kadey on Walk In Africa (live):
“It does give a taste of National Wake live. This was our set at the Chelsea shortly after the album was released in 81. It was part of our live set, and we were hoping to put it on disc at a later date. It never happened, and I'm just pretty thankful that I hung onto that cassette, which was taken straight off the board.”
When we rediscovered the National Wake album here at Radio Wave in 2009, we didn't know that National Wake's lead guitarist Steve Moni actually lives in Prague. In fact, he's lived here since the 90s. There are many more connections between the Czech and South African underground scenes of the 80s – and this is the place to explore them...
The South African/Czechoslovak underground crossover
(a) Michael Flek, Wild Youth and the the first South African punk single
Even before National Wake emerged, a punk subculture was bubbling beneath the repressive regime in late 70s South Africa. The country's first punk single was released in 1978: What About Me? by Wild Youth. The Durban band was fronted by vocalist/guitarist Michael Flek – formerly known by the anglicised surname of Fleck, but nowadays going by his original Czech name. We phoned Michael Flek at his home in London, where he's lived since the 1980s. He gave us nothing less than a lost piece of Czech history:
“My dad is Czech. He grew up in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. He was 14 at the end of the war in 1945, so he experienced the whole business of Nazi occupation. He witnessed a lot of things a young boy should not really see, things like reprisals, the sort of things that they used to do to the partisans. It was a terrible time. After the war had finished, he decided to leave – because, after spending his youth under the Nazi occupation, he didn't really see much future in the communist way either. It just seemed like more of the same thing.”
“He left home, told them he was gone. It was really quite a story, like, he swam rivers at 14 years old. And then he arrived in Austria, and they were put into a refugee camp. In those days you didn't get automatically allowed freedom, you got into this camp for a few years, and you waited until it was all resolved. Eventually he was let out of the refugee camp, and he then made his way to the UK, where I was born. He worked in a shoe store in Liverpool. And my dad did the boots for the Beatles, all this sort of stuff! So there was sort of a rock 'n' roll thing right from the beginning...”
“In 1963 my dad got a job opportunity to go to South Africa. South Africa was quite sort of idyllic in some ways, from the outside - it looked like a perfect society, because you had all these amazing houses, and the greenery, and the amazing lifestyle... but behind all this was the apartheid. I suppose as a young kid you didn't really know much about it, but as you grew older, you started picking up the clues. And it was a country of extreme paranoia. The South Africans were really scared of what was known as the swartgevaar – the “black threat”. And they were terrified of communism...”
“When I was in my matric year at the age of 16, one morning at the assembly the army came in. They basically came to do their recruitment for national service, and to give us the big story about the army and all that sort of crap. We all had to go up to this desk and sign up for the army. I went there and I filled in the forms and all that – we all had to do this – but I got a letter in the post a month or so later, saying that I'd been rejected from the army! And the reason for this was because my dad had the connection with Eastern Europe. What they weren't very pleased about was that my dad used to still go every year and spend several weeks in Brno, which is where his family lived. So they had this suspicion that he possibly was up to no good. It suited me fine, because the army was something I definitely did not want to get involved with.”
Instead, Flek got involved with Wild Youth. In the years 1978-1980, Wild Youth set out on a mission to spread punk rock rebellion across Durban and beyond, cheerfully ignoring the racial segregation laws which insisted they could only play to white audiences. By 1979, they had connected with Johannesburg's National Wake, and started touring the country. You can hear more about the 1979 Rock Rebels Tour, as described by National Wake's Ivan Kadey, on a Friday Ripple show from 2009 which you can still find hosted on the National Wake website. There's also a transcript of that show hosted on South African music site Kagablog.
Meanwhile, there are more connections between the two countries' undergrounds to explore...
(b) The ubiquitous Plastic People of the Universe
Undoubtedly the most famous Czech alternative band of all time, The Plastic People of the Universe are forever linked with resistance to totalitarian regimes. Probably their best-known song internationally is 100 bodů, covered by Patti Smith and Ivan Kral in 1978 as A Hundred Percent. Perhaps less well known is the South African version of the song: Honderd-En-Een Persent Bang (“One Hundred and One Percent Fear”) performed by late-80s post-punk experimentalists Koos. A recording of this recently resurfaced, as a bonus track on the 20th anniversary re-release of Koos's 1989 Black Tape. For the linguists among you, here are the three texts:
100 bodů (Czech text - František Vaněček)
A Hundred Percent (English translation and additional verses: Ivan Kral & Patti Smith)
Honderd-En-Een Persent Bang (Afrikaans translation and additional verses - Johan Van Wyk)
The 80s South African underground was able to give a little something back to the Plastic People too, in the form of post-production work on some classic recordings. When the tapes of Plastics albums like Půlnoční myš were smuggled out of 1980s Czechoslovakia, they were pressed onto vinyl by Recommended Records, an independent label in Britain specialising in underground and anti-establishment music. At this time, South African dissident and avant-garde dub artist Warrick Sony a.k.a Kalahari Surfers was in exile in London. His day job: sitting in Recommended Records' studio with a razor blade and a pile of tapes from artists in totalitarian regimes, turning them into master tapes that could be used to press vinyl. He recalls:
“Recommended Records, yeah, I used to do stuff while living there. I lived there for a while. And I was pretty good at editing, I did a lot of tape-splicing before computers were around. I only edited the album together – you know, it was a whole bunch of quarter-inch tapes. I've got the album here somewhere, Midnight Mouse...”
Warrick Sony very much downplays his contribution in this area – probably because in this period he was also busy making some of the most explosive anti-apartheid records of the era, and touring the world in public opposition to the South African regime. Nevertheless, his boring 80s day job was an important link in the distribution of Czechoslovak underground music.
Warrick Sony has not mellowed with age, as you can hear from the most recent Kalahari Surfers album, 2010's One Party State. He does, however, have a more fun day job nowadays: he runs Milestone Studios, Cape Town's biggest recording studio complex. Incidentally, Milestone Studios was designed by the Los Angeles architect Ivan Kadey – otherwise known as National Wake's Ivan Kadey, who emigrated to America in the 80s.
National Wake lead guitarist Steve Moni also emigrated in the 80s, but he ended up somewhere very different: right here in Prague. This was completely unknown when Radio Wave's Friday Ripple started playing National Wake tunes two years ago, and it's perhaps the strangest coincidence of them all. Earlier this month we caught up with Steve in the audience of Prague's summer Respect Festival, watching Dutch/Ethiopian post-punks The Ex & Getatchew Mekuria. These days, he is happily chilling out on the other side of the stage. Here's what he told us:
“In 1982 I left South Africa. It was really the end days of National Wake. I was already working in film at that point, and had given up to concentrate full-time on National Wake. But when I saw that National Wake was not able to follow through with its record release, then I decided to look further, to look beyond... So I emigrated to Italy, I worked in Rome as a film editor. In Rome about 10 years later I met my future wife. She was from Prague, and the - irresistible allure of Czech women brought me to Prague! [laughs] And of course I found it an equally beautiful city, and equally alluring, and I decided to stay here and make a go of it... and I've been here ever since. I'm part of the furniture - and happy to be so!”
While Steve Moni is enjoying a well-earned quiet life in the Czech Republic, the punk rock crossover between here and South Africa is about to move to a whole new level...
Part 3: Punk In Africa, the film
This film has been mentioned several times on Radio Wave's Friday Ripple over the past couple of years - and it's finally ready! Punk In Africa premieres at the Durban International Film Festival in South Africa on 28th July. After that, it hits the international festival circuit, and should arrive in the Czech Republic in early autumn.
The documentary is the work of a regular guest on Radio Wave's Friday Ripple, Prague-based film-maker Keith Jones. Keith lives between Prague and Johannesburg, and together with his South African co-director Deon Maas, they have spent the last two years documenting the history of punk rock across all of southern Africa. Stars of the film include absolutely everyone featured in the stories here (in both present-day interviews and archive concert footage) plus the leading lights of two further generations of punk rockers in South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
It was Keith Jones's early research in 2009 which turned up a copy of the long-lost National Wake album; he passed it to Radio Wave's Friday Ripple who, as you know by now, immediately declared it the great lost punk classic of the 20th century. Keith also wrote the liner notes for the new CD re-release. He returns to this edition of the Friday Ripple with a stack of African punk tunes featured in the final Punk In Africa film.
If you came to this blog via a recommendation from the punk scene: this is actually a Czech public radio station website; the blog posts are just a bonus. Everything discussed here is also available as a 2-hour audio stream, which you can find on the Radio Wave Jukebox streaming archive. To listen to the full show, select Friday Ripple from the programme menu, and click on the show marked 17.06.2011. As well as audio interviews with Keith Jones, Ivan Kadey, Michael Flek, Steve Moni and Warrick Sony, you'll also find the following music:
National Wake - International News (South Africa) [Ritual/Retro Fresh/DMZ]
National Wake - Wake of the Nation (South Africa) [Ritual/Retro Fresh/DMZ]
National Wake - Walk In Africa (South Africa) [Ritual/Retro Fresh/DMZ]
National Wake - Black Punk Rockers (South Africa) [Ritual/Retro Fresh/DMZ]
National Wake - Mercenaries (South Africa) [Ritual/Retro Fresh/DMZ]
Wild Youth - What About Me (South Africa) [Ritual/Retro Fresh]
Wild Youth - All Messed Up (South Africa) [Ritual/Retro Fresh]
The Plastic People of the Universe - Vrátí se [Czech Republic] (Recommended Records)
excerpt: Patti Smith & Ivan Kral - 100 Percent (live) [USA/Czech Republic] (Ceská Televize)
excerpt: The Plastic People of the Universe - 100 Bodů [Czech Republic] (Recommended Records)
excerpt: Koos - Honderd En Een Persent Bang (live) [South Africa] (One F Music)
Koos - In Detention [South Africa] (One F Music)
Kalahari Surfers - Township Beat [South Africa] (Recommended Records)
The Ex & Getatchew Mekuria - Musicawi Silt [Netherlands/Ethiopia] (Mississippi Records)
Hog Hoggidy Hog - African Son [South Africa] (Hogmosh Music)
Evicted – Mapurisa [Zimbabwe] (Evicted)
Powerage – Freedom [South Africa] (Neg FX)
Fuzigish - Burn the House Down [South Africa] (Red Ambulance)
340ml – Australopithecus [Mozambique] (340ml Music)
Fruits and Veggies - Without a Gwai or a Cent [South Africa] (self-released)
Hoquets vs Konono No.1 – Likembes [Belgium/R Congo] (Crammed Discs)
Jagwa Music - Watu na Maisha Yao [Tanzania] (Jagwa Music)
Sticky Antlers - Street Cred [South Africa] (KRNGY Logo/One F Music)
The Rudimentals - Radio Skaweto [South Africa] (Rudimental Music)
Safari Suits - A South African in Paris [South Africa] (Shifty Records)
This edition of the Friday Ripple is dedicated to all artists past and present who have stood up against oppressive regimes around the world. It is especially dedicated to National Wake's Punka Khosa and Gary Khosa – Rest In Peace.