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Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony

2006-11-03 08:42

The power of song to communicate, motivate, console, unite and, ultimately, beget change: that ideal, gloriously realized, lies at the heart of director Lee Hirsch's inspiring feature film documentary Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony. Winner of the Audience Award and Freedom of Expression Award at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, Amandla! tells the story of black South African freedom music and reveals the central role it played in the long battle against apartheid.

The first film to specifically consider the music that sustained and galvanized the 40 year long struggle, Amandla!'s focus is on the struggle's spiritual dimension, as articulated and embodied in song.

Nine years in the making, Amandla! features interviews with a diverse range of individuals, who candidly share their experiences of struggle and song. The film brings dozens of freedom songs to the screen, drawing upon original recordings and thrilling, sometimes impromptu live performances by celebrated South African musicians and non-professionals alike. Threaded throughout the film, these rich and beautiful anthems take viewers on an extraordinary journey through the spiritual and physical reality of life under apartheid.

Amandla! unearths the story of an extraordinary unsung hero, composer and activist Vuyisile Mini. A courageous political leader as well as a gifted songwriter and poet, Mini quickly realized the expressive potency of song after the apartheid government came to power in 1948. Mini gave voice and hope to a powerless people with anthems like "Beware Verwoerd," in which an infectious melody carries Xhosa lyrics that warn the architect of apartheid that his day of reckoning will come.

To tell the story of this music, Amandla! turns to the people of South Africa itself. Among those featured in intimate interviews are the renowned musicians who helped expose the suffering of black South Africa to the world, including trumpeter Hugh Masekela, singer Miriam Makeba, pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, singer/songwriter Vusi Mahlasela and singer Sibongile Khumalo.

There are several generations of South Africans who experienced the struggle on the ground, a group that ranges from actress/singer Sophie Mgcina to freedom fighter Lindiwe Zulu and activist/music producer Sifiso Ntuli.

In addition to the songs themselves, Amandla! retrieves a bounty of archive footage, some of it never before seen. Culled from a variety of sources, the footage describes the brutal arc of apartheid: the forced removals of black South Africans to wretched townships; the institution of onerous pass laws; and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. As the government grew increasingly repressive and violent in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, freedom songs responded, urging the fight on.

Amandla! concludes on a joyously harmonic note with the "Siyanqoba (Victory)" rally, held in 1995 just prior to the government's first democratic local elections, the final step in the process of democratic transformation. Yet the story of freedom songs does not end there; as Amandla! makes clear, the music remains part of the fabric of the new South Africa. The freedom songs that were the strongest voice of an oppressed people now serve to express the very soul of their struggle to a post-apartheid generation. Named for the Xhosa word for "power," Amandla! lives up to its title, telling an uplifting story of human courage, resolve and triumph.

This award-winning documentary tells the story of the music the four decades of music that inspired the South African liberation movement.

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