THIS IS NATIONAL WAKE tells the story of a multiracial band in apartheid-era South Africa,
whose members risked everything to make music that helped change a nation.
In 1979, Johannesburg was a city divided. Apartheid kept its black and white citizens separate and unequal. But in the city’s underground clubs, three young South Africans dared to rebel. This unlikely trio of rockers — Gary and Punka Khoza, black brothers from Soweto, and Ivan Kadey, a Jewish guitarist from Johannesburg — formed a revolutionary band, called National Wake, that broke every law of apartheid to imagine a new way to live.
United by a love of rock and a hatred of racism, National Wake’s talented members came from vastly different backgrounds, but learning to love and trust one another, the three conceived of the band as a way to dance on old South Africa's grave and awaken a new nation. The music that is born of their union permeates this film, and immerses viewers in their utopian rock-n-roll world.
This is National Wake tells their story — from the turmoil of the Soweto Uprising, to the band's creation and the buzzing interracial scene it grew; to their debut record being spirited to England and championed by John Peel on the BBC right after its triumphant release on Warner Records. But under aggressive police surveillance, the band's members couldn't escape the face that their lives, art, friendships, romances, even children were illegal under apartheid. This reality crushed the band from within and without, and had devastating impacts on the lives of its members.
As heartbreaking as it is potent, THIS IS NATIONAL WAKE explores the inspiring story that can be found in the lives, music and mission of the members of National Wake, and the legacy they left behind.