Punk in Africa

A fascinating new music documentary has unexpected Czech connections

As part of the 2012 One World (Jeden svět) film festival, the music documentary Punk in Africa receives its official Czech premiere at Kino Lucerna on Thursday, March 8.

Shining a light on South Africa's, Zimbabwe's and Mozambique's underground music scenes, the film reveals a remarkable but little-known story: how southern Africa's punk movements -- and the fascinating cast of characters that drove them -- survived the repression and isolation of the Apartheid era.

As well as giving Prague audiences a look at a little-known chapter of musical history, Thursday's screening is also a homecoming of sorts: Punk in Africa was produced by Prague-based producer Jeffrey Brown and co-directed by another American living in Prague, Keith Jones.

"In 2004, Keith went to a friend's wedding in Zimbabwe and there he met with Punk in Africa co-director Deon Maas and our cameraman Gary Griffin," writes Brown, via email, explaining the film's unlikely genesis.

Subsequently, Jones, Maas, Brown and Griffin worked together on the 2008 documentary Durban Poison and a variety of smaller projects before deciding to take on a more daunting task: Punk in Africa.

"The main difficulty we faced was that the story of punk in southern Africa remained completely untold and required extensive first-hand research," recalls Brown. "We were greatly assisted in this by the rise of social media, which allowed to more quickly get in touch with people all over the world who had been participants in the scene. Once we located these people, they always opened up to us and agreed to share their stories, music and archive materials, which greatly facilitated the making of the film."

Surprisingly, more Czech connections emerged. Michael Flek, the lead singer of South Africa's first punk band, Wild Youth, is from a Czech background, for instance, while Afrikaans post-punk band Koos have covered a track by Czech underground legends The Plastic People of the Universe.

Brown and Jones have also screened the film for members of Czechoslovakia's Communist-era underground music scene, who quickly saw parallels between the two movements. "David Cajthaml, founder of the first Czechoslovak punk band, Energie G, embraced our co-director Deon and said this is exactly my story," writes Brown. "Deon, in return, remembered that as a young punk in Cape Town in 1979 he read an article in the NME entitled Punk Behind the Iron Curtain, in which learning about Energie G inspired him to become more active in the South African punk scene."

In South Africa itself, where Punk in Africa has been screened at festivals, concerts and art-house cinemas, Brown has been surprised by the diverse audiences the film has attracted. "The film is very well received not only across racial lines but, even more interestingly, across several generations," he writes. "Our age group at screenings has ranged from six to people in their late 80s and all generations concerned have commented that the film gives them an alternative but also deeper understanding of their recent history -- something of which we are very proud. We also like the fact that so many black punk chicks appear at the screenings and tell us how happy they are that they no longer feel the need to explain their interest in the punk subculture as the film gives a sense of history."

Besides the South African screenings, the film has also been shown at festivals in Rio and Rotterdam and will be screened again in Prague later this year, initially at April's Days of European Film festival and then at independent cinemas around the Czech Republic. Further European screenings are also planned and Punk in Africa will receive its North American premiere later in the spring.

And what of the music itself? As a sampler, an MP3 "mix tape" can be downloaded, free of charge, from the official Punk in Africa Soundcloud page and, according to Brown, plans are well underway to rerelease further material by bands featured in the movie: "CDs by both National Wake and Wild Youth/Gay Marines have been reissued by Retro Fresh in South Africa. Additionally, Warrick Sony from Kalahari Surfers has started a download service called Sjambok Music to make bands such as The Genuines and Koos available in digital form.

• As part of One World, Punk in Africa will be shown at Kino Lucerna at 7:15pm on Thursday, March 8; Kino Atlas at 6pm on Sunday, March 11; and again at Kino Atlas at 9:30pm on Tuesday, March 13. Keith Jones will be attending all three screenings; Jeffrey Brown will be attending the March 8 screening at Lucerna

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