Fonko, meaning “the thing” or “to take care of each other”, is a visceral, whirlwind journey through Africa’s modern music scene. Taking us from Dakar to Johannesburg and hitting many cities in between, we are brought up close to the revolutionary artists redefining not only African music, but what it means to be African.

From afrobeats to house, hip hop to the kuduro style taking hold “like a fever” in Angola, Fonko explores the new music blends and creative talent that have been unleashed in Africa by the digital age. Laced with potent voice clips from Fela Kuti, one of the continent’s most prominent musical icons and political activists, tales of corruption, violence and segregation also pepper the narrative. Splicing together music videos, live performances and archive footage of historical events, the film creates a sort of collage of the oppressions, influences and triggers that inform the bass, rhythms and lyrics you hear – such as the assassination of Burkina Faso’s President Sankara in 1987, or images of those drowned through failed attempts to take the “luck boat” to Europe. These moments highlight that for many of the artists, their cultural and political history are indelibly linked to their present-day reality.

There is an intimacy in the style of the documentary – you are perpetually in the front of a car, up-close and personal with a figure in a club, or snuck into the hidden spaces deep in townships and slums where art and creativity is flourishing in the most unlikely places. Indeed, Fonko becomes a window into the reality of music and dance as the lifeblood running through many African communities, as a place of expression, empowerment, business and political action. Imagery of the old and the new, the basic and advanced are constantly juxtaposed, with youths not only using Western technology but hijacking it and making it tell their own story in their words.

Not always an easy watch, Fonko is a gritty, edgy documentary that is at times alarming yet often uplifting and undeniably educational. Much more than a musical showcase, it is a political statement with a beat running through it: “Music is a weapon. Music is the future of Africa.”

★★★★★

By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 8th October 2016.

Fonko does not have a UK release date yet. For further information about the 60th London Film Festival visit here.

Watch the trailer for Fonko here:

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