February 2003
Amandla! : A Revolution in Four Part Harmony

Reviewed by Wilson Morales

Amandla!: A Revolution in Four Part Harmony
Genre: Documentary
Distributor: Artisan Entertainment
Director: Lee Hirsch
Producer: Lee Hirsch, Sherry Simpson
Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.
Starring: Abdullah Ibrahim, Duma Ka Ndlovu, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Sibongile Khumalo

South Africa's legendary musical sensation, Grammy Award-winner and UN Ambassador Miriam Makeba in Artisan's Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony - 2003

The Sabe Choir in Artisan's Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony - 2003

The Soweto Community Choir in Artisan's Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony - 2003

The All Star Flutes in Artisan's Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony - 2003

Nelson Mandela in Artisan's Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony - 2003

Trumpeter Hugh Masekela in Artisan's Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony - 2003


In light of what is currently occurring in today’s world with the threat of war, freedom from oppression is nothing new for South Africans. For many decades, they endured such hardship within their country that current news of armageddon doesn’t faze them. Directed by Lee Hirsch, AMANDLA! A REVOLUTION IN FOUR PART HARMONY is one of the best documentaries that focus on the grass roots of the music that told everyone and educated them about apartheid.

From 1948 to the early 90s, black South Africans struggled to live a decent life within their own country. Not only did they have to fight for jobs, food, and a decent living, they had to abide by the laws set by the government, which was led by an all white National Party beginning in 1950. The Group Areas Act controlled black access to white areas. To go into non-black areas, blacks had to carry “pass books” containing fingerprints, photos, and other information. Marriage between whites and blacks were prohibited, and blacks couldn’t converge in groups of 10 or more. When the ANC started rallying folks to defy these laws, many of them were killed or denied re-entry to the country once they left. It was through freedom songs that the word got out about what was going on. Through these songs we got to understand why Nelson Mandela was jailed all those years. When I was in high school and saw many campaigns started to stop apartheid, I never knew what that really meant. Some schools don’t teach you what’s going on in some other countries, and how it affects you and your race. So long as you know your basic history about this country is all that matters to them. When you hear the songs sung by Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba, you may not get an understanding of they are trying to convey, but once you’ve seen this extraordinary documentary, you will have a new appreciation for their music as well as others.

In this film, we see old clips of some of the freedom fighters who paved the way for others to fight. We see interviews with many of them, including those who were jailed just because they were friends or “connected” to Nelson Mandela. Hirsch also got interviews with those were exiled from South Africa because they had the courage to speak against the government. We learn the grass roots of these songs and how they play today with different meanings. We also see interviews from one of the executioners as he tells his side of how he saw things. Lee Hirsch is a young man who spent most of his 20s going to South Africa and researching the past and the present of the subject matter and the music. To gain the trust of those on film to recall their horror stories is no small feat, and I commend him for never giving up. Doing a documentary is never easy. Unlike feature films where there’s a budget and “too many hands” involved, a documentary requires patience for in order to tell it right, you need all the resources you can get. “AMANDLA!” means power, and it’s the power of the songs that has freed the people from unjust rule. While so many songs are performed on film, the one that stands out is “The Untold Story” by Sibongile Khumalo. She asks her Gods for an explaination to the slavery endured by her people. It’s very powerful, emotional, and very moving. When it’s all said and done, and with Nelson Mandela now free, apartheid is no more, at least in South Africa. Never forget the songs that paved the way for all to know about apartheid.