National Wake

Walk in Africa

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Walk in Africa Review

by Thom Jurek

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 (Perhaps that's why the apartheid government exerted enough pressure to have the album withdrawn after selling only 700 copies, and denied public permits for performances, leading to National Wake's eventual dissolution.)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.

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