THIS IS NATIONAL WAKE tells the story of a rock band that broke every law of South Africa’s apartheid system by bringing black and white musicians together.

In 1979, Johannesburg was a city wracked by strife. Over thirty years had passed since South Africa made apartheid law, and young black protesters and their white sympathizers seethed at a society that would keep them separate and unequal for another fifteen years. That spring, a new band appeared in Johannesburg’s nightclubs that gave their anger a sound. That band was National Wake

National Wake explodes onto the screen through stunning Super 8 footage shot in Johannesburg's underground clubs. Their brand of afro-rock was daring, irreverent, and outspoken in its opposition to the status quo. But what was perhaps most distinctive was their color. At a time and place where hanging out with someone of another race was illegal, National Wake was a multi-racial band.

Ivan Kadey, a Jewish orphan from Johannesburg’s suburbs, long felt solidarity with South Africa’s subjugated blacks. Gary and Punka Khoza were black brothers from Soweto, who lost older siblings to the violence of the time. All three were outsiders to South Africa’s dominant white Afrikaner culture, and turned to music to channel their angst. A chance encounter in their 20s led to a magical jam session, and South Africa’s most radical rock trio was born.

Joining punk sensibilities with reggae riffs, National Wake offered an African-inflected take on the sound that UK phenoms like The Police and The Clash rode to worldwide fame. They were one of few groups to get black and white South Africans to dance together. But their notoriety led to the government blacklist, and daily visits and periodic beatings from the fearsome South African Police. In 1982, unable to withstand the pressure, National Wake fell apart. 

Coupling verité scenes and interviews, with never-before-seen archival footage, THIS IS NATIONAL WAKE illustrates the years that comprised the turning point against one of the 20th century’s greatest political horrors, and how the burden of race played out in these bandmember’s lives. Ivan thrived as an architect in Los Angeles, but Gary and Punka Khoza died in their 40s, casualties of separate societal ills that have long plagued South Africa’s blacks. 

THIS IS NATIONAL WAKE goes on a journey back in time – and forward toward redemption, as the band’s music, once unjustly silenced, is re-released to global acclaim on Light in the Attic Records. 

The world is finally ready for National Wake.

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