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Customer Review

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic documentary about the power of music, November 7, 2004
This review is from: Amandla! A Revolution In Four Part Harmony [DVD] (DVD)
We've all heard cliches about the power of music but this is an amazingly moving film about the real power of music. The movie, shot on a handycam by Lee Hirsch travels through five decades of music and activism in South Africa's history. By looking at the key songs and the men associated with each phase of the struggle, Hirsch does a great job of bringing to life the sheer horror and brutality of everyday life under apartheid. But he also manages to capture the hopes of the revolutionaries through a series of moving and poignant interviews. What struck me about many of the interviews was how spontaneously these activists would break into song to recount their experience. By providing minimal commentary and by letting the songs and men who sang them do the talking, Hirsch has created a masterpiece.

Apart from chronicling the history of the movement, Hirsch also chronicles the lives of many of the activists that the world has forgotten today. The movie opens with the exhumation of Mini's grave to the soulful voice of Vusi Mahlasela. One by one, Hirsch also exhumes heroes and heroines of South Africa's past, particularly musicians, who live only through their songs, and tries to give them their place in the anti-apartheid struggle.

It is also fascinating that the colour of his skin allows Hirsch to shoot some fascinating footage including those of modern white South Africans nostalgic for an earlier age. Hirsch also allows a deft touch of humour to pervade his work, subtly, without ever being disrespectful to his subjects. One of my favourite scenes is where Rathebe recounts how they would sing revolutionary songs and the whites would look at them and praise them for their melody not realising what the actual lyrics were. It's hard to describe that scene in words, but its wonderfully shot and the two matriarchs burst into spontaneous laughter at the memory, and yet the viewer is never allowed to forget the pain of the condescension and humiliation they suffered. Their laughter, like their song, is a slap, even today to those who persecuted them.

I would also recommend buying the Amandla! CD along with this. It contains the full version of many of the songs featured in the documentary including the seminal 'Beware Verwoerd' which runs like an anthem through the anti-apartheid struggle and a fantastic version of Mahlasela's 'When You Come Back' sung, in the movie, in tribute to Vusiliye Mini.
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A. Datta
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