45 minutes, 2000
Black Britain, BBC2
Producer-Director: Amir Amirani
Editor: Graham Shrimpton
Camera: Brand Jordaan
Series Editor: Clive Edwards

Apartheid in South Africa was so harsh that even black music was kept separate, forcing ethnic communities to listen only to “indigenous music”. But this cultural dictatorship unwittingly created a huge treasury of recorded black music.

Described as a “gold mine” by Andy Kershaw, a BBC disc jockey and expert in world music, the archive comprises songs by thousands of musicians who have never been heard outside the townships where they performed. It covers more than 50,000 tracks from all the big non-white groups.  

The recordings encompass a variety of styles ranging from a-capella choruses to sugar mill bands, and represent Zulu, Venda, South Sotho, Tswana, Xhosa, Swazi and Ndebele traditions. The South African Broadcasting Corporation created radio stations for each ethnic group, then recorded non-white musicians to fill up the airtime. One person was put in charge of traveling the country to find such musicians, and we interview her in this film. Some of the South African recordings have been lost. Material considered politically dangerous in the latter years of apartheid was destroyed. Other recordings were vandalized – the word “Kafir” being crudely scratched on to acetate discs. But the majority, still in surprisingly good shape, remains to be explored.

Courtney Pine presented this film, which tells the story of how this remarkable archive came about, and meets some of the people who were involved, including:

“Big Voice” Jack Lerole

Hugh Masakela

Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith black Mambazo

Dr. Yvonne Huskisson, Former Head of Music at Radio Bantu

Steve De Villiers, Former Head, Radio Bantu

Dr. Ruth Teer-Tomaselli, University of Natal

Abigail Kubeka and Dorothy Masuka

Babsy Mlangeni and Koloi Lebona

Jane Dlamini

Rob Allingham, Music Historian.