To my Scandinavian friends: I’m in Sweden this week! Amanar was supposed to be joining me, but due to visa issues I’m representing Azawad by my lonesome. I’ll be in Stockholm and on the 11 and 12th I’ll be djing at Gagnef Festival.
Lastly, for those of you that missed it – the program I co-produced with Sam Backer on Modern Malian music is still live up on Afropop Worldwide. Big ups to letting us play “Malien Dougie” on NPR affiliates across America. Eat your heart out Terry.
Martial arts films, like the aforementioned Hausa-Bollywood films, have inspired audiences that were not content to just watch and turned to film production. In Sokoto, the small city in the Northwest corner of the country, a martial arts school went one step further and created their own Kung Fu to make action movies.
While touring through town, we met with Bahiri or “Master Alko” as he is called. He is a large, imposing man, and martial artist – one of the responsible for this highly localized phenomena. As a young man, he explained, Bahiri and his friends would sneak in to the open air cinemas to watch martial arts films. They were enamored by the action, but could barely emulate what they saw. But shortly after, the Biafran war began in the South and soldiers were stationed in Sokoto. As part of their routine, the soldiers organized Judo practice in the stadium. Bahiri saw this as his opportunity to learn Kung Fu. What they created was an amalgam of Judo and various elements borrowed from film.
In 1999, cheap VHS production allowed the school to begin making their own action films. Acting became part of the martial arts repertoire. Much like the martial arts, they would watch and dissect the films, practicing acting with the same finesse applied to a physical movement. The resulting films borrow heavily from Kung Fu tropes. Ninjas explode into smoke and shoot lighting bolts. A lone fighter take down crowds of attackers effortlessly. And when anyone falls, they make one last effort to reach out with their dying breath before collapsing unconscious.
Bahiri has made seven films so far, and he explains that they made very little money. When most of Nigeria is churning out “dialogue” films – drama unfolding with actors simply talking to one another – his films are much more difficult to shoot. “[Dialogue films] only take 10-15 minutes to make a scene,” he explains. “For action films it can take 2 to 3 days.”
Nevertheless, Bahiri continues to make film (and was recently hired to choreograph the action in the big budget Nollywood film “Spirit of the Assassin”) But the majority, self produced and low budget, remain unprofitable and on the fringe of Hausa film. Nevertheless, Sokoto’s action films are a labor of love, the realized dreams of children who wanted to see themselves on the screen – so much that the whole school have Kung Fu may have been invented just to get there. “We call our style Pikra Kung Fu. ‘Pikra’ means inspiration,” Bahiri explaines. “We inspired ourselves by looking at films.”
for more see Nakamura, Hirokazu. “The Current Situation of Creative Kung-fu in Northern Nigeria – Nollywood as a Receptor of Hong Kong Movies”. Bunkyo University, Department of Human Sciences), Japan.
March 2012. We find serene lodging in the Mabera section of Sokoto, not far from the place where the two foreigners were executed in a botched rescue just a week prior – a slight stain on an otherwise spotless city. Unsurprisingly, few people mention it, either suspecting we know, and this is exactly what brought us, or that we’re just two blissfully unaware idiots.
The first stop is ‘Visible Sounds Studio’ run by a young man named Khadir. We cram inside the music studio, separated from the main room by wood and plexiglass, bathed in a blue alien light. Khadir assembles his studio workspace, his Yamaha keyboard set beside his computer. He begins to assemble a song for us to observe the method of production. His hands dance over shortcuts and mouse clicks, triggering new tracks, dropping effects and rearranging the numerous multicolored wav-forms. A melody is seemingly plucked out of the air, a bass line is added, followed by crash of synthetic drums that unfold into a frenetic beat in a few minutes of rapid fire work. The instrumental finished, he sets the Yamaha aside, and the singers enter the soundbooth in a revolving succession, recording vocal tracks that are overdubbed twice to create harmony and then dropped into Antares autotune. They have no woman vocalist on staff, so one of the male singers sings in a ridiculously high pitch. Post-autotune, it sounds convincing.
Suraj Sound Studio is larger and more professional. A poster on the street advertises the services of sound and film: a comedian in signature red hat striking an exaggerated silly face flanks a beautiful girl in headphones standing before a microphone. The studio is a bit larger then the others, and more professional. Naturally, the work moves a bit slower. After a flurry of introductions, shaking hands with dozens of actors, comedians, and musicians, the engineer beings to work. Two singers sit on the floor with intense focus. They ask us our names as they pen the lyrics, occasionally humming a tune. The dedication of the engineer and vocalists is exhausting – even for the crowd, that eventually thins out. They finally climb into the soundbooth for a series of unrelenting takes until the seemingly perfect phrasing. Of course, neither Warren or myself speak Hausa and wouldn’t recognize the small differences. In the final audio, the only things we can identify are the names that we asked them to include: “Sahel Sounds” and “Little Axe.”
Troubling news in Northern Mali right now with former colonizer France bombarding the North – that’s the sh*t I don’t like. For some of the globalization that we do like, here are a few recent mixes I compiled for Okayafrica and Dublab Radio. Keep on keeping on.