The 'Silverton Siege' Soundtrack is the Sound of Resistance

Netflix's new film Silverton Siege features a varied and impressive soundtrack that grounds the film with tone and character.

At the end of Silverton Siege, Netflix's new original movie, the gun-toting duo of Calvin (Thabo Rametsi) and Terra (Noxolo Dlamini) walk fearlessly towards the open bank doors for another standoff with the police. They knew their fate was death.

The scene drowns in alarming red lights, then cuts to black with the sound of gunfire. Zamo Mbutho’s "Asimbonanaga" plays next; the song is a mournful acapella invoking the mood of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.

Directed by South African filmmaker Mandla Dube, Silverton Siege features a soundtrack that grounds the film with tone and character. These songs are forged in an African revolutionary consciousness. From Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat anthem "Zombie" to Philip Miller’s "Hamba Kahle Umkhonto." In the case of South Africa, they re-enchant the role songs played in galvanizing people against apartheid.

The Silverton siege was a flashpoint in the movement for Nelson Mandela’s release. In 1980s South Africa, anti-apartheid freedom fighters — Wilfred Madela, Humphrey Makhubu, Stephen Mafoko — aborted their planned sabotage mission at Watloo’s petrol depots and were on the run from the police. They hunkered down at Volkskas Bank in Silverton, Pretoria, where they held 25 civilians hostage.

In the film, Calvin is the de facto leader of the group, negotiating for safe passage out of the bank. The officer in charge, Langerman (Arnold Vosloo), reluctantly agrees to the demand and sends a helicopter manned by a solo driver. It’s a trap, though. Without their knowledge, the pilot Sechaba (Tumisho Masha) is going to deliver the group to the police once he’s been informed of their destination.

Fela’s "Zombie" starts to play when the trio, with a hostage taken along, leave the bank and head for the chopper. What transpires afterwards is the group knowing they have been set up. Sechaba is pulling out a gun when he’s preempted by Calvin. He’s disarmed, struck in the face and forced out of the chopper, then manhandled back to the bank along with the group.

Released in 1976, "Zombie" criticizes the military as tools of oppression by the Nigerian government. It strikes a parallel to the helicopter scene. Sechaba, a Black South African, is an asset of the police. By extension, he’s in service for the white ruling class aiding the capture of the freedom fighters. What’s teachable here is that in the process of fighting oppression, the enemy doesn’t always look like those in power, but could be anyone from the grass-root.

Although they look like the oppressed, these people aren’t committed to revolutionary warfare or liberation. Their orders come from above. The next time we hear another song in the background, it is Chicco Twala’s "I Need Some Money." The scene finds Calvin and Aldo pushing out trolleys stacked with cash in the bank’s main hall. Soundtracking the scene with this song diffuses the tension, inverting the serious stakes with its shangaan-disco liveliness.

"I Need Some Money" was released in 1986, and it was the first hit from the South African artist and producer. What does it mean to need money during this time? The global economic crisis didn’t spare South Africa, with rising inflation, unemployment and weakening of its currency. But Calvin isn’t interested in the money. This is another inversion that occurs. An economic downturn in the country where seeking material provisions would be justified is juxtaposed with the revolutionary mindset of his group.

The trolley is now outside the bank, where Terra and Calvin hold a Black American man at gunpoint. While Langerman tries to reason with them, the American pours fuel all over the trolley on orders from the duo. Engulfed with fire, Johnny Clegg and Juluka’s "Impi" comes on. Calvin walks sideways towards the press with their cameras and shouts, “Free Nelson Mandela!”

This shifts the trajectory of the story. Nelson Mandela was sent to prison in 1964 for treason and opposing the apartheid regime. The clamor for his release in the film is underscored by the sheer stature of Johnny Clegg, who wasn’t just a singer and songwriter but a huge figure in the fight against apartheid.

Silverton Siege woman gun

Photo Credit: Neo Baepi/Netflix

His band, Julukua, was one of his successful racially mixed groups. Off their second album, African Litany, which was released in 1981, Impi is Zulu for ‘’war.’’ His version of "Asimbonanaga" was made with his other band Savuka from their album Third World Child and was dedicated to political prisoners, especially Mandela.

Silverton Siege isn’t a film without a body count. Outside the bank demanding for the release of Mandela, Calvin and the bank supervisor Christine (Elaine Dekker) have put away their differences. Unfortunately, she’s shot by a rooftop sniper from the SWAT team.

"Hamba Khale Umkhonto" permeates this scene where she dies. It’s forlorn and mournful. When Silverton Siege —which was released on Freedom Day last month — ends, the sacrifice of the trio becomes symbolic for what comes later: freedom.

Photo: Kourtrajmé film school

A Lens into Ladj Ly's Free School for Aspiring African Filmmakers

We visit the film school in Dakar set up by the Franco-Malian director and his fellow filmmaker, Toumani Sangaré.

Over 2,000 miles south of where Franco-Malian director Ladj Ly earned an Oscar nomination for the internationally-acclaimed thrilling drama, Les Miserables, stands the newest of three film schools opened by the director. The Kourtrajmé film school (Ecole Kourtrajmé), named after the collective Ly co-founded in France, is based in Senegal’s metropolitan capital, Dakar, and centered on a community learning concept initiated by the director himself – designed to inspire future generations of budding African filmmakers.

Situated in the fast-paced, multiple story landscape of plateau, Dakar’s downtown area, the Kourtrajmé film school is sheltered inside of an art space, known as Agence TRAMES, an artistic and cultural hub founded in 2018. It’s the third in a family of film schools founded by Ly and co-founder, filmmaker and actor Toumani Sangaré – after Montfermeil, in the Paris suburbs, along with another in the southern city of Marseille.

The school is open to all students, regardless of their background or level of education.

Sangaré and his wife Emma are co-directors of the school, and French-Senegalese star Omar Sy is a mentor. The idea had originally been to open the school in Mali, where both Sangaré and Ly’s parents are from, but as Sangaré told RFI, security problems there have stalled those plans.

“The school is free, without a prerequisite of having a diploma,” says Emma Sangaré. “During the courses, they [the students] need to be available, and in Dakar. They are selected by their motivation and their originality in what they propose.”

Whether these students present a point of view that’s different, a character that is very strong, or a method of capturing their story that is visually compelling, 14 aspiring scriptwriters and 18 budding film producers are chosen to work together to produce several short films and a series pilot, during two six-month sessions.

Burgeoning scriptwriter Salimata Dieme is among this year’s class. “The story that I want to tell is about a girl who is really passionate about rap music,” she tells OkayAfrica. “You see how rap is often rejected by the elite, but the music denounces certain things in society, specifically how the bourgeoisie live. I want to show the dichotomy between these two worlds. Especially since the parents of this girl [in my story] do not want her to get into rap music.”

Dieme sees herself in this storyline; she comes from a family that pushed for her professional development outside of the creative field. Her background in finance is what drove her to seek out an opportunity like the Kourtrajmé film school. She hopes that after her time there she will be able to make her mark on the African cinema scene.

An image of a student at the Kourtrajm\u00e9 film school in Dakar

Burgeoning scriptwriter Salimata Dieme is among this year’s students at the Kourtrajmé film school in Dakar.

Photo: Mel Bailey

“Female directors and producers are really missing in our space [in Africa], they are really only behind the scenes; we don’t really see them producing or directing, sometimes they can be found writing, but we don’t really see them directing things. Not really in the way we should,” she adds.

The Kourtrajmé association, which is French slang for short film, is based on the principle of inspiring a community through creativity, and providing young aspiring scriptwriters and producers with the tools they need to make it in the film world, at no cost to them.

For the first half of the year, students undergo classes that help them with techniques for advanced storytelling, including the ‘big reveal,’ used to create tension and act as the pivotal moment in film. Focused on the importance of community learning, classes are never all work and no play.

Resounding laughter as a result of comical feedback can be heard from time to time while class is in session, alternating with strict criticism aimed at challenging specific elements of a storyline or character development.

An image of a class in session at the Kourtrajm\u00e9 film school.

The Kourtrajmé association, which is French slang for short film, is based on the principle of inspiring a community through creativity, and providing young aspiring scriptwriters and producers with the tools they need to make it in the film world.

Photo: Mel Bailey

For Sangaré, working as a collective is essential in this industry, so it’s only natural that classes be conducted in this way. “It’s not a field in which we can’t work alone; it’s a field in which we hand off to others," she says. "Films are written, then revised, the dialogue is developed, then passed on to the humorist, who adds color and emotion, and then rewritten. If you don’t have the ability to work together to take the strengths of others and their expertise, to influence your work and make it stronger, then this field isn’t for you. We encourage students to understand this way of working; to listen, and do our best to arm them with the ability to work in this way."

As the months progress, screenwriting students continue working to structure the vivid elements of their scripts by undergoing different exercises, including the identification of one clear objective for their main character. Their scripts will then hopefully be selected for the next round of creative aspiring producers and directors to work on.

For students like Mamadou, this form of coaching is invaluable. “The most interesting thing that I’ve learned thus far is that ideas are not fixed," he says. "Despite all the preconceived notions I can have about an idea or my project, we can still do better and bring it out in a different way. This helps bring out the vision, to make it stronger."

Although the film school in Dakar is still quite new, opening its doors for the first time on January 17th of this year, its directors have already received calls by producers for proposals from the students.
An image of a press conference featuring the founders of the Kourtrajme film school in Dakar.

Toumani Sangare (2nd L), director and founder of the Kourtrajme Dakar film school, attends a press conference with his collaborators Modibo Diawara (L), Jean Mze Ahmed (2nd R) and Ladj Ly (R) at the film school in Dakar on January 19, 2022.

Photo: Seyllou/AFP via Getty Images

"This is really encouraging," says Sangaré. "It means that these students will have a lot of possibilities. Since we are supported by AFD (Agence Français de Développement) and L’INA (the National Audiovisual Institute), which allows us to have a status and positioning in the field, people come to us because they know that we have notoriety."

Giving students a leg-up in the industry is a by-product of the school's network, and of the support it provides once students have finished their courses. "[We] help their work be sent to festivals, and follow up on their personal projects to help them advance. This is really a family so it’s not as if after the session ends we won’t speak with them anymore. We will always keep in touch and give them contacts, and also give them the possibility to pitch to other large producers that they will have the chance to meet; we won’t let them continue without any support thereafter,” adds Sangaré.

The concept of collective, accessible learning is appreciated by all involved, but being a free school does come at a cost. “All of our financing comes from international donors, and we have difficulty finding local funding," says Sangaré. "It’s a problem. It would be great to find more local funding. We are so focused on telling the stories of the continent with people from here, and we are so focused on the local environment, yet no one sees the added value to invest in this… Africa doesn’t seem to want to invest in itself for itself. And this way of working – always looking to foreign investors for donations, is not durable; we’re here and it’s not for nothing."

Still, class goes on -- held every day of the week -- with exchanges from local professors and Sangaré herself, in a convivial environment, full of laughter, with well-placed criticism and plenty of room to question ideals and to grow.

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