The Documentary, Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony ties the movement to end apartheid with the incredible musical movement that occurred in conjunction with the political struggle. The documentary brings sound, noise, and music to a movement that was silenced through force. Director Lee Hirsch is able to beautifully interweave these elements through compelling interviews, clips of music as revolt, and description of the musical-political movement. The film incorporates history with music to create a powerful message highlighting the importance of music within the movement and within political movements in general.
Amandla! features interviews with important musicians, writers, and activists of the movement to end apartheid such as Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Vusi Mahlasela, and Abdullah Ibrahim. This gives them the opportunity to describe how the movement occurred and the importance that music held within it. A good example used is Vuyisile Mini’s “Nantsi Indoda Emnayama” a song that translates to mean, “Here is the Black Man.” The song contains the line “Beware Verwoerd, here is the black man” that brought together many black activists early in the apartheid and began the trend of aggressive and violent song lyrics sang to upbeat melodies in protests. One other vital part of the movement was a lack of musical ownership. It didn’t matter who wrote the song, only that the song was powerful enough to become popular and create a revolution. A powerful song of revolt became a shared asset to the community that all members could claim equal share of.
The most horrifying scene in the documentary is one of the last. It features ex-riot police spending an afternoon at a barbeque and talking about the Toyi Toyi. This was a dance that Zimbabwean’s shared with the South Africans. The Toyi Toyi is a combination of song and dance that features stomping and kicking. The riot police at the barbeque reminisce on the Toyi Toyi and laugh at its ridiculousness and also the fear that it evoked in them. It is really horrifying to see these men ridicule the beauty of a movement that they oppressed unjustly though force and aggression. We hope that after committing such horrible crimes, these ex-riot police could see the error of their ways. Instead, we are shown that ignorance is abundant and atrocities can still occur. This message leaves the viewers with the concept that it is easy to learn about past struggles and regard them as purely historical, but injustice continues to exist around the world.
Amandla! is incredibly accessible because it highlights the major turning points and events of the history while perfectly incorporating sound clips of varying types. The result is a documentary that is both emotional and informative and is able to show the clear but often overlooked connection between the movement to end apartheid and musical revolt.