Monday, May 28, 2012

Punk in China and Africa

On a visit to China back in 2004, as Beijing was demolishing its past in preparation for the then-pending Olympics, I was invited out one night to a punk gig. Ever open to things I've never done before, I jumped at the chance.

The gig was held in a small, sweaty club near the foreboding walls of the Forbidden City, not far from Tiananmen Square. Musically, it could have been the Kings Road, London, 1976 (not that I was actually there, mind you). What was more interesting, however, was the lyrical content. My host leant in and informed me that the vocalist was singing about the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Raised on my Westernised perceptions of China as I was, this came as a bit of a surprise to me. Whether this was a genuine act of punk-style rebellion or evidence of a loosening up of constraints on artistic expression I'll probably never know. Nevertheless, I was intrigued to note that this form of musical expression, with its rebellious shtick and politicised undertones, had spread this far. 

I knew that the likes of The Beatles had spread in influence way beyond just the West (banned in the Soviet Union, I believe), that Wham! had been the first Western band to play China in 1985, and that these days, all sorts of musical borders no longer stand tall as they once would have done. Still, Chinese punk rock, played in China, by Chinese musicians - this was a bit of a new one on me. Broadband certainly wasn't ubiquitous in 2004 (particularly in China) and although I'd started noticing more Chinese travelling abroad, I didn't think that the country had opened up to so many outside influences that much.

Wrong, obviously.

I was reminded of this moment when I recently came across the new film 'Punk in Africa'. In a very readable review, describes the film thus:
Punk in Africa examines the punk scene in Southern Africa from the 70s onward, an era in which apartheid was being challenged in South Africa with violent repercussions, civil war burned across Mozambique and Robert Mugabe began his massacres in Zimbabwe. At this time, a combination of musical catholicity, the urge to break out of the stifling patterns of the past, and an influx of (white) U.K. citizens lit the slow fuse that transformed Southern African music. It wasn’t an explosion, it was an uninhibited musical miscegenation, in which punk and native musical traditions met – and screwed in the bathroom at the youth club.
I've been very interested in African music for years and started getting into African psychedelia a few years ago. That young Nigerians would hear Jimi Hendrix and James Brown and be inspired to pick up electric guitars could only have led to some seriously cool tunes. That young Zimbaweans would do the same ten years later based on three chords and pogoing...well, music is music and a strong idea will spread to all sorts of unexpected places once it is out of the box. It can take on more intriguing turns though when fused with other local sounds, rhythms and musical customs.

Where the young punks of Southern Africa would have stood out from their British peers is probably the greater sense of urgency in their expressions. British and American punks might have been putting two fingers up to the old guard, but the Mozambicans were rocking out in the middle of a civil war.

Check out the official trailer below:

Once you've done that, here's 75 minutes of African punk, garage rock and ska tunes to keep you busy.

From the film's SoundCloud page:
This mix includes exclusive mashups and re-edits, and goes from Punk to heavily Africanized Rebel Rock to Post-Punk, Dance-Punk, Political Dub, Punk Step, 60s Afro-Garage Techno, Bass Music and beyond, features remixes of Congotronics and a couple of tunes not from the motherland, but surely in keeping with the Afro-Punk spirit.

If that wasn't enough for you, here's a mix of some of the roots of Southern African punk, with a little more vintage underground rock and township funk (also from SoundCloud):