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Credited cast:
Jonas Gwangwa ...
Abdullah Ibrahim ...
Hugh Masekela ...
Dorothy Masuka ...
Dolly Rathebe ...
Jürgen Schadeberg ...


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Documentary | Music







Release Date:

16 August 2003 (UK)  »

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User Reviews

Great music, interesting stories of conditions but lacking structure as a film
16 May 2004 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

In the 1950's, Sophiatown was an area of Johannesburg that defied apartheid and was an area that is described in modern terms as the Harlem of South Africa. The area was well known as a hotbed of jazz music and black gangsters using the habits and attitudes that they lifted from American movies of the time. The period is revisited by those involved in the music and the area as they share their memories and perform at two concerts marking the anniversary of the period.

Opening with a much shorter framework than I have given in the last paragraph, this film requires you to know a lot about the area/period already or to be happy to be always playing catch up throughout the film. I knew a little (hence me watching the film) but I was in the situation of trying to gleam specifics from the general stories told during the film, not the way I like to watch a documentary. In this regard the film really lacks structure and it is difficult to really get into as it is detached stories broken up by songs and dances. Despite this it still manages to tell me some things about the period and place that I had not known before this film – added flesh to the bones of what I knew of apartheid South Africa. It worked well enough to watch but it really could have been structured better to tell one story through lots of specific stories – it gets better towards the end with more historical footage.

The music and the musicians are great through. I had never heard of any of the musicians and gangsters interviewed as part of this film but they are all energetic and laugh as they share even the most brutal or painful of memories – because they are behind them I imagine. Their stories are tinged with sadness at the very least but are all involving and stick in your mind.

The music is a matter of taste: when I think of jazz, this is not the type of jazz that I think of, but it is still catchy and enjoyable and is used well in the film.

Overall, this may not have the best structure in the world but it is an interesting film even if it clearly not aimed at those audiences that have no prior knowledge of the area or the period (even a little bit of help in structuring an introduction would have been better) but it is filled with great characters with stories that they tell to you like an old friend and music that is cool and easy on the ears.

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