This Is National Wake review – the story of South Africa’s multiracial punk rockers

The rise and fall of the apartheid-era band is unspooled in this occasionally dazzling but often lacklustre documentary

This documentary charting the rise and fall of the only multiracial punk rock band in apartheid-era South Africa will please fans but, lacking scale and access, may leave the rest of us disappointed. Told largely through archive footage shot on Super 8 and audio-only interviews, the film recounts the short life of National Wake. Friends and family of the punk rockers feature, and former member Ivan Kadey narrates most of the film.

Eschewing talking heads for invisible ones, the bright start suggests this gambit might pay off; but soon the recollections become bit of a drone, and who exactly is speaking becomes unclear. The film opens strong with the band members covered in paint and playing around, but the truly marvellous moments captured are undermined by filler. Much of this footage doesn’t include sound, so descriptive voiceover interviews fill in the gaps.

Brothers Gary and Punka Khoza, the two Black members of the band, are dead, leaving Kadey, the Wake’s white guitarist, to describe their feelings and experiences – which he does with limited success. Many of the film’s contributors are white. The Khozas’ sisters are interviewed but don’t feature heavily; the lack of Black voices blunts the film’s ability to comment incisively on apartheid and the toll it took, especially in light of the tragic fates of Gary, who killed himself, and Punka, who died of Aids-related illness.

Occasionally visually dazzling and insightful, ultimately This is National Wake struggles to rise above fan interest only.

• This article was amended on 25 October 2022 to describe the band as multiracial rather than mixed race.

• This Is National Wake is in cinemas from 28 October, as part of the Doc N Roll film festival.


Sammy Gecsoyler

The GuardianTramp

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