2013 collection from the South African band. A year back at a screening for Searching for Sugar Man in Los Angeles, someone in the audience came up and mentioned their South African band from the late ‘70s, saying we should reissue it. We were intrigued but didn’t think much would come of it. Soon after, Ivan Kadey, of the band, stopped by the office and dropped off a bunch of their music, which immediately blew US away. 11 months later and we’re gearing up to release the first anthology of his band who are called National Wake. They’re a brilliant mixed race punk-reggae band who came close to death or a lifetime in jail to make music in apartheid-era South Africa in the late '70s/early 80s. Their sound is as much influenced by the Clash and Sex Pistols as reggae, dub and African music. Ivan’s lived in Los Angeles since leaving South Africa in '86. He felt apartheid would never end so he couldn’t take it anymore and left. Sadly, two of the four members of the band are no longer with us…………..
In today’s watered-down market of punk rock, we are not reminded often enough that this genre was considered highly dangerous during the late '70s and early '80s. The first generation of punk rockers often found themselves in fist fights with the police, the general public, and sometimes even their own fans. And yet, oddly enough, what began as a nihilistic movement to remake the music industry as a whole has since been adopted by society. Bands like the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Ramones, and Black Flag (to name a few) have blazed a legacy of incendiary records that were often recorded and released outside of the music industry, and it’s taken a generation and then some for many of these bands to get the recognition they rightfully deserve.
One such band to finally earn its due is National Wake, a mixed-race reggae-punk band from South Africa. While this may seem like no big deal to those learning about the band since the 2013 release of this anthology, the very existence of this band was very much a big deal during their brief existence. Apartheid was in full effect in South Africa from 1948 through 1994, which means the very existence of the band was illegal. When you take into account that National Wake’s primary focus was to bring about the end of apartheid…well, that’s about as punk as you can get (sorry, Johnny Rotten). But what kind of music did the band make, you ask? Take equal parts Bob Marley & The Wailers and The Clash and add a quarter cup of Fela Kuti, and that is pretty much the recipe for their music………ByKirk A. Gauthier…………..
The National Wake’s lone 1981 album, is a startling rock & roll document. Recorded by a multi-racial band in an increasingly tense and radicalized South Africa between 1979 and 1981, it offers the country’s spirit at the time through punk and post-punk as they met reggae and township funk in a collision of rhythm, energy, and melody. The album embodies the best elements of Gang of Four’s Entertainment, the Pop Group’s Y, and the Clash’s Sandinista!, as well '70s-era rowdy township street funk. Lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Ivan Kadey, bassist Gary Khoza, drummer and backing vocalist Punka Khoza, and lead guitarist and vocalist Steve Moni whipped up a hell of a racket. This may be in the D.I.Y. spirit, but these cats can all play the hell out of their instruments. These aren’t merely disaffected young people complaining, but four men in open rebellion, prophesying the end of a fascist, all-white power structure. The politics expressed here are all experiential, personal, shared, and therefore kinetic. (Perhaps that’s why the apartheid government exerted enough pressure to have the album withdrawn after selling only 700 copies, and denied public permits for performances, leading to National Wake’s eventual dissolution.) The music, though centered on the era, has dated beautifully: its lyrics are perfectly suited to 21st century’s culture of globalism and surveillance. It’s music so innovative it could be made in the moment or 20 years from now. Check the furious stuttering guitar and drum attack on opener “International News,” set against a frenetic, rippling bassline. Moni’s voice rides just atop the fractured jittery funk: “They put a blanket over Soweto…I feel the bomb here it grows inside me/I feel the bomb here, is something wrong here?…” The title track is propelled by dubwise reggae but eludes the genre’s constrictions, as chunky, angular guitars, double-timed drums, a wandering bassline, and a serpentine sax solo wind through. In “Time and Place,” hooky pop-punk and township jive are driven by the rhythm section and hand percussion; in turn, they propel the guitars and vocals. The locking six string grooves on “Mercenaries” are urgent, paranoid, but catchy as hell. “Wake of the Nation” melds edgy, wah-wah driven Afro-funk toward an anthemic yet fractured post-punk, and angrily prefaces the sound on the Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues. The thoroughly remastered reissue by Light in the Attic adds six bonus tracks. Of these, highlights are the house-burning punk funk of “Speed It Up,” the raucous live radio performance of “Black Punk Rockers,” and the infectious “Stratocaster.” The set includes exhaustive liners by Keith Jones (director of Punk in Africa), who interviews both Kadey and Moni – the Khoza brothers are now deceased – track by track analysis, full lyrics, and photos. The National Wake’s Walk in Africa 1979-1981 is an authentic case of music as revelation…. by Thom Jurek ………….
A couple of years ago, an LA-based recording studio designer called Ivan Kadey went to a screening of Searching for Sugar Man, the Oscar-winning documentary about singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez and his long-standing fame in South Africa. He enjoyed the film, but something about it bothered him. After the discussion that followed the screening, Kadey felt impelled to go up to one of the panel members, Matt Sullivan, of Rodriguez’s US label Light in the Attic. “I said, you know, this is a great story, and it’s true what Rodriguez meant to us. But they talk about there being no protest music in South Africa in the 70s and 80s, it’s just not right. I was in a pretty interesting band in Johannesburg.” Pretty interesting turned out to be a dramatic understatement. National Wake, the band Kadey led in the late 70s and early 80s, were South Africa’s first, and indeed only, multiracial punk band. And yet Kadey had kept this unique story to himself, partly because he thought no one was interested (National Wake split in 1982 just after putting out their solitary release, an album of which only 500 copies were pressed) but also, Kadey says, because “it was too painful for me, so I just buried it”. The band’s two black members, brothers Gary and Punka Khoza had subsequently died: the former had struggled with mental illness and killed himself; the latter died from an Aids-related illness. “He was just one of the myriad South Africans who contracted AIDS and didn’t get any real treatment because of that whole fuck-up.” Furthermore, Kadey thought his band had failed precisely because no one knew about them: their message hadn’t got across. “We’d started with a vision that this was actually a way to move to something much brighter, a better South Africa. We dreamed that we were going to transcend all the bullshit and that people would hear our stuff and it would happen."The band had grown out of a Johannesburg commune that Kadey lived in during the mid-70s. "It wasn’t uncommon forpeople to live in communes in South Africa at that time, although what was uncommon was that we actually had people from a different races living together, in a white area. Occasionally, the police would break in and harass everyone, threaten arrest. They’d have had reports that we were smoking marijuana, or that there was a black guy living in the house and they’d come to find him – he was actually hiding in someone’s bed who he was sleeping with, she had him tucked under the covers. Ridiculous stories. We’d just decided that we were going to live our lives in a post-apartheid way, in spite of, or with no regard for, all the laws that were set up to govern the way we were supposed to relate.”
Kadey formed National Wake in the aftermath of the Soweto uprising of 1976 – “one of the conditions of living in a repressive state like that is that it just seems impossible to do anything about it, there’s a kind of paralysis, but that was a real 'get up, stand up’ moment: look at these kids, it’s time to take up the fight” – their sound influenced by British and American punk and Bob Marley. It seems astonishing that the latter’s music was even available in apartheid South Africa: you’d think the first thing a white supremacist government would censor would be a Rastafarian preaching pan-African solidarity and black power. “Well, they weren’t hip, take it from me,” he chuckles. “They couldn’t control everything. There were record stores – not many, but one in each town – bringing in all sorts of stuff: The Last Poets, Linton Kwesi Johnson.”
But if the South African authorities had somehow managed to overlook Bob Marley, they didn’t miss National Wake, whose songs didn’t exactly cloak their political message in layers of impenetrable metaphor. In three minutes, the band’s signature tune International News manages to decry state censorship, the war in Angola and what guitarist Steve Moni calls “the ostrich life of suburban South Africa, just spending your time deliberately trying not to notice things”. They developed a following around Johannesburg, despite club owners frequently electing to close their venues altogether rather than let them play. But when they attempted to join other new wave bands on a national tour called Riot Rock, they discovered the promoters had, as Kadey puts it, “got very, very worried about hosting this multiracial band” and applied to the government for permission. “And of course it was refused. When we arrived, they said we couldn’t play and I was adamant that we would. We actually played three gigs on that tour. The fourth gig was in Fish Hoek, very conservative, and they totally lost their nerve, they’d forbidden us, absolutely, to play. We walked onstage, plugged in and took off and they pulled the plug within 10 seconds."They seem to have been viewed with a certain awe even by rival punk bands: "They had an aura, like wanted men,” says Michael Flek, frontman of South Africa’s first punk band Wild Youth. “When they showed up it was like the revolutionaries had arrived”. But the pressure of existing in what Moni describes as “a thin grey area between what was legal and what wasn’t” wore on the band the more successful they became. The house they lived in was under constant surveillance. Eventually, the police told them to leave the country altogether. “We were called into an interview at Hillbrow police station with a very sinister cop, plain clothes,” says Kadey. “He told us: 'Listen, you guys should go overseas, call yourselves Exile, you’ll make a fortune.’ He presented it as career advice, but you knew what he was saying: we’re watching you guys, maybe you should fuck off.”
“You were living on your wits a lot of the time, constant adrenaline,” says Moni. “It was very stressful. You know, you were young, you were pushing the envelope a bit, but it was dangerous too, I guess. Not just because of the police. We played in townships after midnight and there were black people there who didn’t think it was cool for black guys to be playing with white guys under that regime. It was pretty treacherous all round.”
They were, Moni says, astounded to be offered a record deal with Warner Brothers. Recorded virtually live in a couple of nights, their eponymous album was released in 1981: “Of course, it had been stripped of its more contentious numbers and the lyric sheet was partly blacked out,” says Moni. “We left it like that, to show it had been severely hacked.” Despite a limited pressing, it got a good reaction. They found themselves booked to perform at “the premiere showcase for bands in the country”, a Johannesburg club called The Chelsea. “All the people interested in what was happening in rock and roll came to see us,” says Kadey. “But unfortunately the venue was very strict on race segregation, so it was an absolute bummer.” The indignity of performing in front of segregated audiences was the final straw for bass player Gary Khoza: “His spirit was just hammered,” says Kadey. He quit and the band fell apart. Moni left South Africa for Europe; after years running a mobile studio, Kadey followed suit, emigrating to the US.That should have been that, but as it turned out, Kadey was wrong about National Wake being forgotten: their music had a strange afterlife on bootleg tapes. Around the same time he told his story to the guy from Rodriguez’s record label – Light In The Attic is about to release a 14-track National Wake compilation entitled National Wake Walk in Africa – he was approached by film-makers, who wanted to shoot a documentary about punk in Africa. “One of the driving forces behind the movie told me National Wake’s music had saved his life. He was a conscript in the army, fighting across the border in Angola and he was listening to National Wake on his headphones. The music had spread and I honestly didn’t know.”
He’s justifiably proud of the music on the Walk in Africa compilation, if a little surprised by the reaction both abroad and back home. “South African Rolling Stone did an article headlined Everybody Loves Freedom: The Rediscovery of National Wake,” he says. “That’s a lyric from a song the Khoza brothers wrote. Those guys were so amazingly firm and steadfast, that’s how black South Africans were. I spoke to their sister today. I said, look at this: Gary and Punka’s words are finally being read and heard loud and clear in South Africa. It’s a great day. It really is.”
National Wake 'Walk In Africa 1979-81 is released on Monday on Light In The Attic…………..
Once again, the astute archivists at Light In The Attic pluck another artist from undeserved obscurity—although sadly, unlike some of the label’s projects (Rodriguez comes to mind), the likelihood of a physical revival are slim as two of the musicians have passed away. National Wake formed in the aftermath of the Soweto Uprising of 1976, South African students additionally inspired by the international punk movement, and a bi-racial combo to boot, which in the apartheid era wasn’t exactly given the blessings of the government. Indeed, the members of National Wake, as part of a Johannesburg commune, regularly attracted the scrutiny of the police, oftentimes even having their concerts cancelled. This only served to galvanize them further and provide songwriting fodder.
As a result they penned meaty anthems such as the Clash-like “International News,” the reggae-drenched title track, blazing garage-rocker “Mercenaries” and the lilting Caribbean pop of “Corner House Stone,” all politically charged and purposeful. Their lone album National Wake saw release in 1981 and even got issued in the UK where deejay John Peel gave his blessings, but ultimately the band couldn’t sustain itself in the face of the constant myriad pressures.
Light In The Attic has compiled all the key recordings here, several of them previously unreleased, as a double LP (180-gram vinyl) in a tip-on deluxe gatefold sleeve, plus a handsome, photo-packed 20-page booklet detailing the entire story. Essential listening for any serious student of punk—or the history of South Africa and apartheid….. BY FRED MILLS…………..
Tracklist A1 International News A2 It’s All Right A3 Walk In Africa A4 Time And Place B1 Corner House Stone B2 Mercenaries B3 Wake Of The Nation B4 Supaman C1 Speed It Up C2 Beat Up The Lights C3 Black Punk Rockers C4 Stratocaster D1 Everybody D2 Vatsiketeni