Amandla! is a stylish, well-researched documentary that testifies to the power of music as a tool of salvation. Through interviews with South Africa’s leading black musicians, it chronicles the importance of music in the struggle against apartheid as well as the lineage of individual songs, demonstrating how one musical idea could bring solidarity across generations and social groups: from condemned prisoners to rebel soldiers to domestic workers.
In one of Amandla!‘s most poignant segments, Sophie Mgcina launches into an impromptu rendition of “Madam Please”: “Madam, please, / Before you ask me if your children are fine, / Ask me when I last saw mine.” The scars of apartheid are everywhere in Amandla!, but for each act of injustice, a song was there to greet it. The film opens and closes with scenes from the exhumation and dignified reburial — nearly 40 years after his execution — of Vuyisile Mini, a noted protest singer and activist. In the words of one of Mini’s friends, “He went to the gallows singing.”