Tag Archives: akounak

mdou moctar tour 2015

mdou moctar tour 2015

Mdou Moctar is heading out on a tour across the EU and Canada! If you happen to be around, please come by. We’ll be screening the film “Akounak” at select dates, and we’ll be bringing DVDs and the yet to be released Vinyl OST. Stay tuned for more film screenings + Sahel Sounds DJ dates in Europe throughout the month of July…

Mdou Moctar – Jagwa (live in Marseille)

Akounak Premiere

After nearly a year from our shoot, we’re pleased to announce the premiere of our film. Starring Mdou Moctar, a longtime Sahel Sounds artist and collaborator, Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai (“Rain the Color Blue with a little Red in it”) is the fictional tale of a young guitarist trying to make it against all odds. You can read more about it here.

Per the aforementioned Kickstarter, we’ll be premiering the film in two places: Jan. 29th at the Hollywood Theater in Portland, Oregon, followed by a premiere Feb. 5th at Le Gyptis in Marseille, France.

Though originally slated to be released quickly, a mere six months after the shoot, post production was extended far beyond the realm envisioned. We enlisted a team for color correction, recorded new versions of the songs, redubbed portions of the audio, delved into foley work, and hired a sound engineer to mix and master the audio. Most of these post production steps were unexpected, as the interest in the film caught us by surprise. What we had imagined as an experimental project with a handful of screenings in the West and distribution via West African DVD players transformed into something beyond our expectations. Post-production is something overlooked by many filmmakers, especially this one. Next time, it would be interesting to follow with a post that could be done in record time, carried out in West Africa – a fully encapsulated project start to finish on the ground. Though we’re in no hurry to remake Under the Cherry Moon.

We had the chance to screen the film in Agadez in September 2014. It was a very vocal crowd, filled over capacity, and the film was punctuated with cheers and applause. The Agadez reviews are good, which was a most flattering conclusion to the project. But more work remains – we’ve still got Kickstarter rewards coming, and DVDs are in production. The soundtrack is in its final stages of mixing and an LP will be released this year. And we are slated to release the film in West Africa across the Tuareg diaspora – so if you find yourself in Agadez, Sebha, Tamanrasset, or Kidal, look for the film soon. Whether on DVD, USB key, or a cellphone is up to you. Tastes may vary.


photo by Markus Milcke

all gold everything

Before the Kickstarter finished, we left for Niger to shoot the footage that will eventually become the film “Akounak.” The windy season was fast approaching, which would be followed by a blistering hot season, followed by torrential rains. We acted quickly, shooting at breakneck speed over a mere ten days.

Work began immediately as we arrived in Agadez. There were a litany of problems that plagued us throughout the shoot – none of which are unique, as I’m assured they occur in every film production. But this particular project came with a caveat. The story was intended as collaboration and everything was subject to constant revision with input from cast and crew. Sets, designs, clothing, actors, and even the story itself was constantly rewritten during production. One scene calling for a marabout using evil gris-gris against the protagonist was deemed too controversial, and no one wanted to read for it. A hug was equally scandalous. Our lead actress stipulated she had to dress in brand new clothes and full makeup anytime she was filmed. As such, her character was rewritten to be very rich, with expensive habits.

Agadez is surrounded by Tuareg communities, but the Hausa language dominates, and by extension, Hausa film. Besides the more interesting aspects of the Hausa-Bollywood connection, Hausa films are stylized in their own manner. They are censored for controversial subject matter (both by filmmakers and an actual board of censors) and the stories unfold in soap opera settings. The protagonists dance through fancy houses with new furniture, beautiful gardens of manicured grass, and expensive neighborhoods with paved streets and luxury cars.

The tendency towards the luxurious was a common theme throughout the production. Often, locations did not correspond to my vision. When a house was deemed too small, we moved to a bigger one. When a sight was deemed unsightly, we covered it up. When children ran into the street, they were told to clear out. The day to day realities – the corner dusty boutique, the donkeys milling about dirt streets, the blown out amplifiers and bricolage guitars – were not considered the cinematic ideal. The scenes were not wholly natural, but artificial and idealized. Actors wore their best shirts and dresses. Sets would be cleared of all debris to appear flawless. Locations were chosen for their paved roads and new buildings. Once I tried to shoot a cluttered street of dirt and mud, trickles of sewage winding out of houses onto the road and garbage strewn about the alleyway. “Not there,” Moustapha said. “That’s dirty. Why would you shoot that?” It was a legitimate question. Equivalent, perhaps, to a Tuareg filmmaker coming to Portland to make a film about the noise scene, and stepping into my bathroom. While I had imagined that a film could both be a fictional tale and convey the ethnographic glimpse into the realities, the shoot seemed to lead us deeper into an ethnographic fiction.

While the film has just finished shooting and much work lies ahead in the laborious editing process, it remains to be seen just how much of “the real life” Agadez will come through. A better question to ask is whether it should. In adapting a film to Tuareg culture, we were not only re-creating a story, but adapting Western cinema itself. Relenting creative control of the project to the new representations that arrived was difficult at times, though necessary to create art that could exist outside of Western audiences. Perhaps where “Akounak” refuses to revel in the exotic culture of Agadez, it is also denying to film with the eye of the outsider and can speak much more eloquently about local fictions, idealized visions, and what Tuareg speaking cinema might look like.

rain the color of blue with a little red in it

A few years back, a friend and I were joking about the idea of adapting films to the Sahara. The buddy cop film in Nouakchott, the alien invasion of the Western Sahara. We eventually came to Prince’s 1984 epic rock-u-drama Purple Rain, which seemed the ideal model. The film is written around a musician. In some ways, it plays like a long music video. While some of the writing seems kitsch today, and riddled with clichés, the idea at the core – a fictional film very loosely based around the life and struggle of a musician – was a feasible project that could be possible.

Flashforward a few years, I began working with Mdou Moctar (the autotuned star of the Music from Saharan Cellphones compilations) and Jerome Fino of the French collective L’improbable to make this film a reality. Over three weeks in Niger, we started shooting, found a cast and crew, and most importantly, began rewriting the story from the perspective and experiences of Mdou and his fellow musicians. The resulting project that we’ve titled Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai (English: “Rain the Color of Blue with a little Red in it”) is less a remake than a homage – a telling of a universal story. Akounak follows a fictional Mdou who has just moved to Agadez, and his struggle to become a star in the winner takes all scene of Tuareg guitar music. The movie is full of musical performance, and features a number of Agadez’s star musicians.

Akounak will have the honor of being the first ever movie shot in the Tuareg language (specifically, a mixture of dialects from Aïr and Azawagh). We want it to be a hit in the desert (we’ll release it as DVDs in Niger and as 3GP on cellphones). But it will also be one of the few fiction films concerned with the Tuareg music subculture. While Tuareg guitar has been explored somewhat exhaustively in documentary features, most of these films have focused on the political origins of the folk music – not how it thrives today. Like my friend Drew Wilson says, this film is not about Kalashnikovs but “cellphones, motorcycles, and guitars.”

The Kickstarter is now well under way, so we’ll be headed back next month to shoot the project. If we exceed the goal, we’ll be adding more rewards and goals – maybe a vinyl original soundtrack recording? Stay tuned.