Today is Freedom Day in South Africa.

Ironic as we all know, with much of the world in lockdown. In addition, poor leadership in many parts of the world is keeping large numbers of people from achieving financial and social dignity. With far too few women, black people and other “minorities” in positions of power and influence, we have a way to go to achieving our dream of true freedom.

The 27th of April commemorates the day in 1994 when the first democratic election was held in South Africa. What better way to celebrate Freedom Day than to launch the #AnthemChallengeRSA video of over 1000 ordinary South Africans coming together – virtually – to celebrate unity and strength through diversity – as our coat of arms reminds us. ǃke e꞉ ǀxarra ǁke

Today is also the final week of #LockdownRSA in its first form. This video is a message to South Africa that, as we enter the new world and next phase of #LockdownRSA come 1 May 2020, if we are unified, we can succeed. It won’t be easy, and we have many, many challenges ahead of ourselves but South Africans are a resilient bunch. Our grit, determination, passion and humanity will help us triumph.

I am proud to have played a small part in the video. I am one of those little blocks! With over 1 0000 other South Africans – most who can sing way, way better than me, we contributed our voices. See if you can spot me – a clue is that I have a South African buff on my head!

I am also chuffed at having convinced (bullied/blackmailed?) my friends Rikus Kok, Linda Glass and Colin Ford to take part. As well as a few others in my network.

Finally, Colin and I helped the team behind this project with a bit of pro-bono PR work. In fact, everyone in this project made their contribution pro-bono. In the words of one of the main drivers of this project, James Bassingthwaighte from Thatch Music:  

“This started as a simple, small expression of unity amongst some artists. It grew quite rapidly to 50 and when we realized that we may be able to have an even greater impact, we decided to act on the hunch.Little did we know just what kind of challenges we were in for!

“By far the biggest barrier to submitting videos was the fear of being exposed. Singing in five different languages by yourself is daunting and we didn’t realise that a lot of our efforts would be spent on giving as much positive feedback as we could. We are very grateful to all those brave South Africans who stepped forward!

“Most of the videos were submitted over WhatsApp. It was a rule from the beginning that we would communicate directly with each person who submitted, thanking them and making sure that we appreciated their efforts. A thank you goes a long way.”

The video comprises 1030 unique videos of South Africans singing and playing numerous instruments as they create a magical version of our beautiful anthem.

In chatting to Peter Heaney, the extraordinary editor from 9mmFilms who worked on the production, I learnt a lot about how creativity and mathematical precision go hand in hand. Many analogies in the process here for how we can live our lives during lockdown I think:

“We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into! This has been a monster effort, but as always it’s been a great learning curve and we’ve come up with some neat solutions and streamlined processes along the way.

“One always feels there must be a shortcut but ultimately the shortcut was to make sure we’d taken the time to format and time each and every video correctly to begin with and everything flowed from there. Starting with the right materials means a smoother process in the long run I guess.

“It’s also become clear that a phased approach to renders was the only way the systems would manage.

“To start, the amazing folks at Thatch Audio ingested the source videos into their mix software and synced it up. They then adjusted and exported to us so that we all had a common starting point and duration (over 1000 people performing in unison!)

“James from Thatch then allocated exactly where in our final composition each person would go and the videos were given a unique file name to correspond with their position on that grid.

 “This is where 9mmFilms took over, ingesting the videos, resizing, reframing, and repairing any errors before exporting each video with it’s unique file name at a resolution of 400 x 400 pixels.

“We decided early on that square videos would be the best option with the huge variety of framing we’d receive.

“We toyed around with methods of creating the frame in the early days, finally settling on an edit first scenario to take full advantage of our Mac systems and FinalCutX’s 64bit base speeds.

“To preserve render times and keep the machines running smoothly without too many assets to manage, we created in phases, first columns of 13 x 1 then panels of 13 x13 columns, then the celebrity overlay and then a completed panel before sending to AfterEffects for final stitching together and camera movement over what was by then an enormous canvass.

“We worked out methods of pasting attributes across large numbers of clips, or developing quick to fix layers so errors could be repaired without needing to render full segments again and ultimately spent a lot of time infront of our screens. The result though speaks for itself. As proud South Africans we’re all extremely grateful to have been a part of such an amazing and uplifting initiative.”

The numbers…

  • 1027 Videos @ 400×400
  • 90 Columns @ 400x 5200
  • 6 3/4 Panels @ 5200 x 5200
  • 1 Canvass @ 15600 x 10400
  • 1 FINAL Canvass with some additional columns @18000 x 10400
  • 7TB of project space
  • And all of this over Dropbox, Videocalls and Teamviewer during lockdown!

 Not bad for a 2 minute video ;)”

James tells me “ It is now time for a nice long sleep… with the anthem playing over and over in each of our heads!” 

But I know the man is lying. Just like Darren Hayward from Freshly Minced, another massive contributor of this project and the legendary producer of shows like The Voice and RMB Starlight Classics, there is always a next project.

In fact, as I close this little blog and let you get back to listening to the end product, I reflect on having met James and Darren via Carolynne Waterhouse from RMB – another amazing South African and marketing genius. 

Our world is made good or bad by the people we choose to have in it. My world is phenomenal thanks to people like Caro, James, Darren and the 1 000 other passionate singers of our national anthem. For that I remain grateful, especially during this difficult time. As our anthem reminds us – now is the time to come together. To live and strive for freedom. God bless our people.

Also read: Sing it loud, sing it proud #AnthemChallengeRSA

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