Drum, the 2004 film was set in Sophiatown, a rare melting pot during the Apartheid era in the 1950’s. This was the one of the first areas where liberal white people and black people could and would interact socially; and what defined that age beyond Apartheid was the jazz music.
Capturing the lives of real men and women who struggled during that time, Drum tells the story of former writer Henry Nxumalo, played by Taye Diggs, as he exposes racial injustice through his investigative pieces in the pages of Drum magazine; the first black African lifestyle publication in South Africa at the time.
The movie lets us into a world away from the doom and gloom of that era. Bonnie Henna, who plays Dora Macala, serenades a shebeen full of swaying females dressed in vintage 1950’s dresses and men in classy suits and hats. Although the American swing prevalent at the time influenced the music and the ambience then, African Jazz was born in Sophiatown.
Home grown acts like Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe, Hugh Masekela, Letta Mbuli and others were borne out of this milieu. The defiant enjoyment of life, creativity and daring to party into the night with inter-racial exchanges was the “Sophiatown Renaissance.” The movie is interspersed with jovial times swaying to the Afro jazz phenomenon and the highlight of Dolly Rathebe posing for the cover of Drum. However it also sheds light on the dreadful moments that scarred the nation. At the height of the movie was the former government’s removal of residents from Sophiatown, flattening the homes of innocent people.
This movie confirms that African jazz was not just about entertainment, hip swaying, head bopping or the sax and the bass; it was what kept hope alive for the men and women who left a legacy and went on to conquer the world stage. Their jazz, its unique heartbeat through the streets of Sophiatown, did not allow their spirit to be broken.