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Uganda’s Tarantino and his $200 action movies
May 15, 2015 | 0 Comments

_82975056_rolling624A Ugandan film company that makes low-budget action movies in the slums has found a cult following online – one US fan liked their films so much, he abandoned New York to become an action movie star in Kampala.

It was December 2011 and things were not going well for Alan Hofmanis. “My girl dumped me the day I bought the wedding ring,” he says. So a friend took him out to a Manhattan bar and, to cheer him up, showed him a video clip on his phone. It was the trailer for Who Killed Captain Alex? billed as Uganda’s first action movie. The minute-long video showed bloody gun battles, speeded-up kung fu fights and computer-generated helicopters bombing Kampala. If you looked closely, you could see that the machine guns – replicas of Rambo’s M60 – had been welded from scrap metal, and the bullets carved from wood. Much of the action took place in mud. A high-pitched voiceover announced this was the work of Ramon Productions, and gave a phone number. The clip had an electrifying effect on Hofmanis. “Around 40 seconds into it, I decided: I’m coming to Uganda,” he says. “I realised what I’m looking at makes no sense – but it’s complete genius.” As programme director for the Lake Placid Film Festival, Hofmanis was used to spotting emerging talent, but he says what he saw here was “off the charts” in its ambition. “In the West, when you have no money, you shoot two people having a conversation… You don’t make a war film.” Two weeks later he travelled to Uganda. He didn’t bother to call ahead, his mind was made up. On his first day in Kampala he was at a busy market, when, far in the distance, he spotted a man wearing a T-shirt that said Ramon Film Productions. He immediately gave chase. “I just start running, and I’m chasing him… so he starts running, but we eventually catch up, and we calm down, and I say: ‘Look, I’m just a fan from New York City – can you take me to the film-maker?'” The answer was, “Yes,” so Hofmanis jumped on the back of a motorcycle and 30 minutes later arrived in Wakaliga, a slum on the outskirts of Kampala. “There are goats everywhere, there are chickens everywhere… That’s raw sewage that’s going right in front of the house – and that actually plays a major role in the films, because it’s life here – it’s dust, it’s heat, it’s children, it’s animals… and it’s pure joy,” he says. Isaac Nabwana, the film director and brains behind Ramon Productions, was not fazed by the unexpected arrival. “I asked him, why didn’t he call me? He said: ‘I am a friend, I had to reach you.’ That’s when I realised that he’s a true friend,” he says. Nabwana offered his visitor some tea, and they spoke for five hours. “I thought I was going to meet someone like myself – a little crazy with a camera and some friends – and very quickly I realised this is the real deal,” says Hofmanis. He had arrived in “Wakaliwood“, where over the past decade, self-taught film maker Nabwana has shot more than 40 low-budget action films. He is not sure how much each one costs to make, but guesses it might be around $200 (£130). “It is passion that really makes a movie here,” Nabwana says. The volunteer cast and crew source props wherever they can. The green screen is a piece of cloth bought at the market, draped over a wall. The camera crane is made from spare tractor parts – Dauda Bissaso, one of the regular actors, is a mechanic and builds all the heavy gear and weapons. “He’s just a genius with a blowtorch, he makes everything,” says Hofmanis. Another key member of the team is Bruce U, a Bruce Lee fan who choreographs the fight scenes and runs a kung fu school for the children of Wakaliga. [caption id="attachment_18155" align="alignright" width="624"]The replica of Rambo's machine gun, welded from scrap metal The replica of Rambo’s machine gun, welded from scrap metal[/caption] To recreate gunshot injuries, they use free condoms from the local health clinic, filled with fake blood – they burst quite realistically. They used to be filled with real animal blood, but when one of the actors got sick with brucellosis, a disease passed on from cows, they switched to food colouring. Fake blood is needed in vast quantities because the films are violent – but in a cartoonish way, and quite unlike the real violence Nabwana witnessed growing up during Uganda’s 1981-86 civil war. “I don’t put that in my movies, what I saw in the past,” he says. “I include comedy – there was no comedy in the violence which I witnessed.” His cinematic hero is Chuck Norris, although he also likes Rambo and The Expendables. Hofmanis, on the other hand, compares him to directors like Guillermo del Toro, Robert Rodriguez and Martin Scorsese – “in terms of creativity and what they’re contributing to cinema”. Nabwana’s love for films began long before he was allowed to watch any – his older brother Kizito would return from the local cinema hall and describe what he’d seen in vivid detail. “I remember the gestures he used… there was a guy who used to crush people, so I liked that,” says Nabwana. “Even now I see them in my head.” At senior school, Nabwana decided he would make his own action movies one day. “I had that art in me, I wanted to make a movie – I had to fulfil that dream,” he says. But there was not enough money for him to even finish school. “So I started making bricks and digging sand to sell to people around here,” he says. Finally, in 2006, at the age of 32, Nabwana had saved up enough to pay for the first month of a six-month course in computer maintenance. “That was enough to know how to assemble a computer,” he says. He then taught himself how to use editing packages such as Premiere Pro and After Effects, and borrowed a camera from a neighbour. “And with that I started… I did not know how to write a script. But then I thought of these drama actors, how do they do it? And I started figuring it out.” Tebaatusasula was one of his earliest successes – the name translates loosely as “They never paid us.” It mixes comedy, action and witchcraft – one character bewitches a man who has stolen his wife. “In Tebaatusasula things jumped out of the house… chairs, the TVs and everything, and people loved that very much,” says Nabwana. But his biggest challenge was yet to come. Unable to find a distributor, Nabwana came up with an ingenious solution: the actors and crew work for nothing, but get to keep half the profits from any DVDs they sell. “We do man-to-man, door-to-door all over the country to sell them,” he says. The films can sell for up to 3,000 shillings – about $1 – but the team only has a window of about a week before they are pirated. They sometimes wear full costume to maximise sales. It was on such a sales trip that they had bumped into Hofmanis. As soon as they met, Nabwana agreed to write a role for Hofmanis, who felt like he was 10 years old again. “When I was a child, I would go through my father’s closet, find two belts of his, tie them together, and now I’m Indiana Jones. And the trees are Nazis. That’s what this is,” he says. So, two days after arriving in Uganda, he found himself filming a fight scene. It didn’t quite go to plan. “I grab someone in the scene and we fall into the raw sewage and we start fighting there.” He says everyone was amazed to see an American rolling around in sewage. “That in some ways was my baptism here. Only people who are from the slums behave this way – because they grow up with sewage it doesn’t mean much to them.” They honoured him with a Ugandan name: Ssali. Sewage plays a part in all of Nabwana’s movies. He purposely includes such details because he wants to reflect his surroundings – his films are from the slums, by the slum. It’s part of their appeal. “What I’ve found out… is that people want to see what they live in. They want their life to be put on DVD. They like it very much,” he says. But he admits that this puts off distributors, whom he has accused of “trying to copy exactly what is done in the West and exactly what is done in Bollywood and Hollywood”. “I’m going to show the world the kind of life we enjoy or we grew up in,” Nabwana said in an interview for the 2012 documentary Wakaliwood. “It’s called a ghetto life but you know it’s good… and it’s hostile.” [caption id="attachment_18156" align="alignleft" width="624"]Isaac Nabwana and his biggest fan, Alan "Ssali" Hofmanis Isaac Nabwana and his biggest fan, Alan “Ssali” Hofmanis[/caption] After that first trip in December 2011, Hofmanis visited six more times. Then in March 2014, the 45-year-old sold his possessions and moved to Wakaliga. “Back in New York I got rid of everything. I had put my stuff in storage but I couldn’t even afford the $22 (£14) per month it cost,” he says. “I’m all in.” “He’s now part of my family,” says Nabwana, 42, who lives with his wife Harriet and three children. Hofmanis moved in next door. They have big plans for the studio. A Kickstarter fundraising project launched in March exceeded all expectations. “All we asked for was $160 (£105) to make a movie, but we got $13,000 (£8,500),” says Hofmanis. They immediately went on a shopping spree, buying toy cars and trucks to blow up – the trick is to match them to what Bissaso can find in the local scrap yards, so they can be used for stunts. The team spend a lot of time discussing weapons. Nabwana now plans to build a full-scale helicopter from scrap. He has a fondness for choppers, and remembers being chased by one during the civil war when he was about 12 years old. His brother’s cinematic knowledge kicked in and they tried to outrun it – the helicopter followed. He chuckles at the memory. Wakaliwood currently has six films in production, including Bad Black, a kind of reverse Karate Kid, starring the children of Wakaliga. And they are inviting fans from around the world to submit scenes for “the world’s first crowd-sourced action film” – called Tebaatusasula: EBOLA. Hofmanis describes life in Wakaliwood as a “lazy country afternoon punctuated by the unpredictable”. As one of the few white men around, he’s in demand as an actor. He has played Jesus in a chart-topping music video. For another role he had to crawl into a fresh goat’s carcass “so when the cannibals plunge a knife into my chest they’re pulling out the goat’s intestines and not my own.” But on his personal blog – Mud, Blood & Wooden Guns – he hints at darker moments. He has lost 55 lbs (25kg) in weight since he arrived 15 months ago. In October last year he compared his situation to the 70s cult thriller, Sorcerer: “I wound up in a third world country with no way to get home… It does not end well.” He has swapped a comfortable Western existence for life in a slum – without running water or plumbing, no sewage system and with barely any electricity. “People can be confused that they see us with internet – a 3G modem that I brought here – and making movies, so the default is it cannot be a slum,” says Hofmanis. “But that’s the whole point. Wakaliwood should not be able to do what it does. But it’s happening. “The story is still being written. This is just the beginning, or the Beginning of the Beginning, as Isaac says.” [caption id="attachment_18157" align="alignright" width="624"]Selling DVDs in full costume can improve sales Selling DVDs in full costume can improve sales[/caption] But in the end, it may be Hofmanis’ story that attracts Hollywood’s attention. Watching a movie can be a raucous affair – films are translated into local languages such as Luganda by VJs, or video jokers, who add their own jokes and improvised commentary, live. “When you are translating the movie you have to feel like you are in the movie,” says VJ Emmie, whose video hall can attract an audience of up to 200 for a live show. “We normally do not change the meaning of the film, but we spice it up.” Emmie wanted to be a VJ from the age of six, because he realised it would make him popular. “I went to the cinema hall and watched this guy translating a movie and the first benches around him – it was women. When I went back home I told my mother, ‘I want to be a VJ’ – mother wanted me to be a tailor.” Wakaliwood has now re-released Who Killed Captain Alex? with commentary by VJ Emmie. *Source BBC]]>

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Nairobi’s Matatu Culture Makes it To Hollywood in Upcoming Netflix Series
May 15, 2015 | 0 Comments

nawakucarter-710x434From Tomb Raider being shot on Kenyan soil to Lupita Winning an Oscar to the ever constant Edi Gathegi, Kenyan talent and abilities can be ranked up their with the best if the potential is factored in. it so happens that Kenyan talent is only recognized after one makes it big anywhere else but not here In an upcoming series, Sense8, that will air on Netflix, a number of Kenyan talents have been. Not only that but actual shooting was also done locally, at least some of it. The definitive matatu culture is featured briefly in the trailer albeit in an understated manner. The synopsis:

Sense8 will tell the story of eight strangers from different cultures and parts of the world, who, in the aftermath of a tragic death, suddenly find themselves mentally and emotionally connected – an evolutionary leap of technological origin. While trying to figure why this happened and what it means for the future of mankind, a mysterious and powerful man named Jonas will try to bring the eight together, while another stranger called Mr. Whispers and his organization will attempt to hunt them down to capture or assassinate them. Each episode will focus on one character and their story.
The series will be available on Netflix by Jun 5th and of the Kenyan faces on it are, Biko Nyongesa, Chichi Seii who’ll reportedly play Capheus’ mother, Lwanda Jawar as Githu, the leader of Superpower, a vigilante gang, Paul Ogola as Jela, Peter King Mwania as a crime lord named Silas Kabaka.   *Source]]>

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An African version of Spartacus ballet to hit the stage
April 30, 2015 | 0 Comments

By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA* JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Spartacus is getting an African makeover. [caption id="attachment_17826" align="alignleft" width="300"]South African choreographer Veronica Paeper, right, watches dancers rehearse for the show "A Spartacus in Africa" in Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday, April 2, 2015. A new South African production of the ballet, "A Spartacus in Africa," will incorporate African dance styles with classical and contemporary dance for a story that its producers say resonates on a continent with its own history of oppression. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam) South African choreographer Veronica Paeper, right, watches dancers rehearse for the show “A Spartacus in Africa” in Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday, April 2, 2015. A new South African production of the ballet, “A Spartacus in Africa,” will incorporate African dance styles with classical and contemporary dance for a story that its producers say resonates on a continent with its own history of oppression. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)[/caption]

In the 1960 movie “Spartacus,” Kirk Douglas played the gladiator who led a slave revolt against the Romans. A ballet version with music by composer Aram Khachaturian was first staged in the 1950s and has also been a crowd favorite over the decades.

A new South African production of that ballet, titled “A Spartacus in Africa,” will feature Khachaturian’s music and will incorporate African dance styles with classical and contemporary dance for a story that its producers say resonates on a continent with its own history of oppression.

“It’s almost totally new,” said South African choreographer Veronica Paeper, who first worked on a Spartacus ballet in 1984, when the white minority ruled South Africa.

The sets and costumes of that earlier version followed the ancient Roman theme, while the production starting in June is inspired by West African dance, East African designs and other aspects capturing the continent’s diversity in a “mythical” setting, Paeper said.

“I’m not setting it in any specific area or any specific genre of Africa,” she said.

The story features conflict between African tribes, according to its producers.

Ballet scenes include a triumphant march and a big battle. During a Cape Town rehearsal, couples moved languidly during an “orgy” scene, and male performers soared and stomped through a war dance.

Brooklyn Mack, an American with The Washington Ballet, will play Spartacus in the cast of about 120.

“I love the story, and his tenacity and perseverance and bravery, and it’s just extremely powerful,” said Mack of Elgin, South Carolina.

Mack will alternate in the role with South African dancers Andile Ndlovu and Casey Swales. Marcus Licinius Crassus, the rebel’s Roman foe, is among other ballet characters.

The ballet opens at the Joburg Theatre in Johannesburg on June 4 before moving to the Artscape Opera House in Cape Town. Each city will host 12 performances with an orchestra.

Paeper said “A Spartacus in Africa” would be something different.

“I’m going to tread on a lot of toes and I’m quite prepared for that,” she said.

*Source AP/Yahoo]]>

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African jihadism movie 'Timbuktu' wins Cesar
February 21, 2015 | 0 Comments

Nouakchott (AFP) – Timbuktu, which won a Cesar award — France’s version of the Oscars — on Friday tells the story of northern Mali under the control of jihadists, in a foreshadowing of the rise of the Islamic State group.

[caption id="attachment_16515" align="alignleft" width="300"]Mauritanian director Abderrhamane Sissako (L) and screenwriter Kessen Tall smile on stage after winning the Best Original Screenplay award for "Timbuktu" during the 40th edition of the Cesar Awards ceremony on February 20, 2015 in Paris (AFP Photo/Bertrand Guay) Mauritanian director Abderrhamane Sissako (L) and screenwriter Kessen Tall smile on stage after winning the Best Original Screenplay award for “Timbuktu” during the 40th edition of the Cesar Awards ceremony on February 20, 2015 in Paris (AFP Photo/Bertrand Guay)[/caption]

The ancient caravan town of the title, often a by-word for otherworldly remoteness, was seized by armed Islamists who cut a swathe through the west African nation’s vast desert for most of 2012.

It was liberated in a military intervention led by former colonial power France, but sporadic violence remains a problem and it is still potentially one of the most dangerous parts of the region for unwary Westerners.

Originally to be filmed in Mali, most of the movie — the only African nominee for the best foreign film Oscar — ended up being shot under military protection in Mauritania, the home of director Abderrahmane Sissako, with just a few scenes captured in Timbuktu itself.

“After a month of filming in Timbuktu, which had already been liberated, there was a suicide bombing outside the garrison,” Sissako recently told AFP.

“I thought to myself it was naive to bring a foreign team of French and Belgians there. We would have been easy targets,” he said.

According to one of Sissako’s friends, newspaper editor Abdelvetah M’Hamed Alamana, the director upped sticks and recreated the mythical city in Mauritania.

– Ancient city ‘re-created’ –

“I can say that Sissako recaptured Timbuktu. He liberated it,” Alamana, who advised during filming, told AFP.

Timbuktu, released either side of Christmas in France and the United States, depicts the resistance of the town’s people and their struggle to retain their way of life under the brutal, ultra-conservative regime of the Islamists.

It shows how women were forced to cover their faces by their new masters from Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb and Ansar Dine, which banned music and football, and dealt out floggings and amputations.

The jihadists demolished the mausoleums of Muslim saints, angrily dismissing them as “idolatry”, and destroyed precious manuscripts preserved in the city.

Characterised by its vivid yet unfussy cinematography, the French co-production was the first ever Mauritanian candidate for best foreign film at the Academy Awards.

Sissako has said winning an Oscar on Sunday, after having won the Ecumenical Jury Prize at Cannes in 2014, “would be above all a victory for Africa”.

The director said he was spurred into making the film by the stoning to death in July 2012 of an unmarried couple in northern Mali, in a video broadcast on the Internet.

Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site 900 kilometres (560 miles) north of the capital Bamako, is “known for its religiosity, but also for his open faith that does not exclude the other, it’s compassion”, the film-maker said.

“That’s what was taken hostage.”

*Source AFP/Yahoo]]>

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Universal but specific – Andrew Dosunmu – Filmmaker
February 1, 2015 | 0 Comments

Rose Skelton* [caption id="attachment_16033" align="alignleft" width="300"]Andrew Dosunmu - Filmmaker. Photo©Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times-Redux-Rea Andrew Dosunmu – Filmmaker. Photo©Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times-Redux-Rea[/caption] The director talks to The Africa Report about the importance of images and silence in telling his stories. Nigerian-born and New York City-based filmmaker and photographer Andrew Dosunmu says that cinema has taken a turn for the worse in the past decade. Excessive amounts of dialogue have killed otherwise perfect stories.

“Things are often very over-reaching,” he says. “I really try to embrace the visual aspect of it because that transcends. People that don’t come from that culture or don’t understand that language don’t have to feel like they’re missing the translation, and that’s the kind of film I want to make.” His 2013 film Mother of George – the story of a Nigerian-American woman who reluctantly becomes pregnant by her-brother-in-law because her husband suffers from infertility – relies on visual devices. Long, silent scenes take in looks between characters, hand gestures and details of clothes. In some cases, the language spoken is not translated into English but the story remains potent for non-Nigerian audiences. “So much can be hidden behind dialogue,” says Dosunmu. “Being a photographer, that’s one of the benefits. That’s my strength.” Dosunmu started his career as a fashion photographer, a skill which translates into his films, which are imbued with the rich colours of African fabrics. In April and May, he had a 10-year photography retrospective in New York. His film Restless City, which was released in 2011, is a raw, unsentimental story of Senegalese immigrants in New York. Narratives about struggling immigrants and the beleaguered couple in Mother of George are “universal and specific,” says Dosunmu. “It’s very important that we have our own voice as filmmakers. What’s our story? What’s the style of films we make?” Dosunmu says he admires Nollywood film-makers for that very reason. “They have a voice. They have their own particular style. Like our literature, it’s universal but it’s specific. “As a filmmaker, that’s what it’s about: how do I create that universal subject from our perspective and specifically with our voice? “That’s what I’m in search of, what influences me, the way stories are told orally and how does one transcend that into a visual medium?” Dosunmu is working on a film about the musician Fela Kuti. “He was such an incredible character. He lived nine lives,” Dosunmu says. The film will portray “the spirit of the man” rather than present his life as a biopic. “I would love the finance to come from Nigeria. I think it’s really important that we start being a part of our own stories, beyond being in front of the camera, actually directing, producing and financing it.”

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The Kenyan dance taking nightclubs by storm
January 18, 2015 | 0 Comments


indexOne of Kenya’s best-known bands are on a mission to reclaim the country’s dance floors and create their own national Gangnam Style hit. So they’ve taken a traditional dance and made it cool.

Sauti Sol are the hottest band in Kenya right now, so it’s surprising that they’ve turned to an old dance more common at rural weddings than city hotspots. Folk dances and fashionable nightclubs don’t usually go hand-in-hand but Sauti Sol chose the traditional moves of the Lipala for the video of their hit song Sura Yako – and it’s taken off in a big way. “It’s been a while since Kenyans have had a dance,” says singer Willis Chimano. “In my younger years we used to have the helicopter dance and the cuckoo dance – those moves were there in the clubs and everyone was doing them.” But as Kenyans became more prosperous and better connected to the international music scene, they started to copy the moves they saw on television and the internet, mostly foreign bands. Sauti Sol felt that got boring though – they had grown up inventing their own routines and didn’t just want to copy other people.  

“We never had access to those music videos and that’s why we came up with phenomenal dance styles,” says band member Bien-Aime Baraza.

Now Sauti Sol are making their own videos and becoming more influential – they won MTV Europe’s Best African Act 2014 – and they believe the time is ripe for a Kenyan-inspired dance floor revolution. “What we need to do is take back our dance, take back the streets,” says Baraza. index.jpg 5What was missing was a blend of the traditional with the contemporary. “The Lipala dance is actually a dance that has been practised by the Luhya tribe for the longest time ever,” says Delvin Mudigi, another member of the band. And because everyone’s familiar with it, it has really taken off, even spawning tributes on YouTube – like this one by the staff of a solar panel company. So we want to hear from you about which dance dominates the nightclubs in your country right now. *Source BBC]]>

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30 Days In Atlanta Premieres In Ghana
January 11, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Prince OLAIYA* Following its record-breaking Box-Office success in Nigeria, Friday, January 30th, 2015 has been announced as Accra’s Premiere date for 30 Days in Atlanta – Nollywood’s highest grossing Movie of all time, and this is authoritative! thumb.aspxThe Premiere, a Red-Carpet event scheduled for Silverbird Cinemas in Accra Mall by 6pm, will feature some of the major cast and Crew of the Movie, including AY, Ramsey Nouah, Ada Ameh, Desmond Elliot, and the two stars representing Gollywood in the film – Majid Michel and Juliet Ibrahim. Said AY, the Producer (and co-lead actor) of the history-making Movie, “after the Premiere, 30 Days In Atlanta will definitely remain in Cinemas across Accra and those elsewhere in Ghana. And to make things very convenient for lovers of Romantic-Comedy in Ghana, we have a detailed Cinema Schedule at “We are taking 30 Days In Atlanta on a Premier Tour around the globe to other African Countries, to Atlanta, to Houston, to London, and that must be after the Premiere on January 30th in Accra. “Ghanaians are the inseparable brothers of Nigeria, and we are confident they will show us some black-star love by going out en masse to Cinemas to see the Movie Nigerians had seen, had enjoyed, are still seeing and enjoying, and have made Nigeria’s highest grossing Movie.” Seven Weeks after it premiered on October 31st in Lagos Nigeria, 30 Days In Atlanta grossed 76million Nigeria Naira, and by Wednesday January 7, 2015 the award-winning Movie had grossed a box-office smashing 127million Naira, and counting. 30 Days In Atlanta, a Romantic-Comedy Movie starring A-listers from Hollywood, Gollywood, and Nollywood is solely distributed in Africa by one of the Continent’s leading Film Distributors – Silverbird Film Distribution Limited. *Source modernghana]]>

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Kenya: Somali Actor Star Gets Hollywood Film Role
January 8, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Grace Kerongo [caption id="attachment_15283" align="alignleft" width="290"]Photo: CaptainPhillipsMovie/Facebook Barkhad Abdi. Photo: CaptainPhillipsMovie/Facebook
Barkhad Abdi.[/caption] Do you remember the Somali-born actor who was also an Oscar award winning contender in last year’s awards? His name is Barkhad Abdi . He has just bagged a role in a new Hollywood thriller titled Eye in the Sky. According to online reports, Barkhad is set to be back on screen in 2015 in a new thriller, after his sterling performance in Captain Philips.

The actor will be starring alongside veteran silver screen star, Helen Mirren (inset). Eye in the Sky is an action movie about a drone mission whose goal effectively changed due to new findings about their target. Colonel Katherine Powell (Mirren) leads a secret drone mission to capture a terrorist group living led by Jamad Farah (Barhad Abdi) living in a safehouse in Nairobi, Kenya. Unfortunately, the film is currently in production in South Africa. *Source Allafrica]]>

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A mental tyranny is keeping black writers from greatness
January 1, 2015 | 0 Comments

By *

We should not be expected to write about slavery, poverty or racial injustice. The greatest literature comes not from the heaviest subjects but from freedom of thought

Ben-Okri-012Living as we do in troubling times, we look to writers to reflect the temper of the age. The essential thing is freedom. A people cannot be great or fulfilled without it. A literature cannot be great without it either. The basic prerequisite of literature is freedom. And the first freedom is mental freedom. For it is possible to be free in the world and unfree in your head. The most striking thing about great literature is the strength of freedom that flows through its pages.

Yet an anomaly of perception is often brought to black and African writers. They tend to be considered only important for their subjects. We read Flaubert for beauty, Joyce for innovation, Virginia Woolf for her poetry, Jane Austen for her psychology. But black and African writers are read for their novels about slavery, colonialism, poverty, civil wars, imprisonment, female circumcision – in short, for subjects that reflect the troubles of Africa and black people as perceived by the rest of the world. They are defined by their subjects.

The black and African writer is expected to write about certain things, and if they don’t they are seen as irrelevant. This gives their literature weight, but dooms it with monotony. Who wants to constantly read a literature of suffering, of heaviness? Those living through it certainly don’t; the success of much lighter fare among the reading public in Africa proves this point. Maybe it is those in the west, whose lives are untouched by such suffering, who find occasional spice and flirtation with such a literature. But this tyranny of subject may well lead to distortion and limitation.

It is a curious fact that the greatest short stories do not have, on the whole, the greatest or the heaviest of subjects. By this I mean that the subject is not what is most important about them. Rather, it is the way they are written, the oblique way in which they illuminate something significant. Their overt subject might seem slight but leads, through the indirect mirror of art, to profound and unforgettable places. The overwhelming subject makes for too much directness. This leaves no place for the imagination, for the interpretative matrix of the mind. Great literature is almost always indirect.

James Joyce’s The Dead is ostensibly about a party that takes place in a Dublin household one winter’s night. People talk, music is played and a woman remembers a young man who died of love for her many years ago. The subject is not the Irish famine, Irish nationalism or any such supposedly important subject. It is about memory, music, or snow falling over Ireland. The importance of the story is the way it is written, the indirect revelation of the human heart, and other things too heartbreaking, elusive and beautiful to encapsulate in words. If he had set out to write about the Irish famine he could not have given us anything as enduring as The Dead.

In our times we are blinded by subject because we have lost our sense of the true significance of art. If a novel is about the slave trade we automatically think it is significant, certainly more significant than one about a chap who drinks too much palm wine. Black and African history, with its tragedies, injustices and wars, has led, with some justification, to the writers being treated as spokespeople for such ills. This has made the literature more committed than others. It might also make the literature less varied, less enjoyable and, fatally, less enduring.

It is a mystery that Italy, with its Borgias, black deaths, inquisitions and violence, left as its lasting legacy the Mona Lisa, The School of Athens, the Sistine Chapel, Giorgione’s Tempesta, the Divina Commedia, the Decameron – works, on the whole, noted for their beauty, their constant universal appeal and influence. They leave us mainly with their beauty. The horror of their history is not visible in the work.

You could not guess at the difficult lives of the ordinary people from the works of Shakespeare. Nowhere in his plays would you learn that in his time they emptied their lavatory buckets outside their windows and that the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon reeked with rubbish. Yet the works endure. They continue to illuminate the human spirit and awaken us to the strangeness and magnificence of the human estate.

There is an interesting lesson here. Cervantes knew slavery, the expulsion of the Moors; he lost his arm in the battle of Lepanto, was not ignorant of Spain’s brutal history; and yet he could not have left us a more lasting legacy than Don Quixote, a novel about a man who chooses to live the adventures he has only read.

Homer tells of the fall of Troy through one man’s sulk. Sophocles tells of a king’s culpability, not the horrors of Greek history. Tolstoy had a great subject in War and Peace, but it is his insight and the writing that give the subject nobility. Pushkin was soaked in Russia’s grim and extraordinary history. He knew the violence of the Boyars, the long shadow of Ivan the Terrible, the crushing lives of the peasants. He knew exile. Yet his Eugene Onegin, a fountain of Russian literature, is about a bored aristocrat; and his short story The Queen of Spades, one of the best short stories ever written, is about a gambler.

Great literature is rarely about one thing. It transcends subject. The subject was always the least important element in works that have endured. Sometimes an important work has a significant subject, but it is usually its art, rather than its subject, that makes it constantly relevant to us. If the subject were the most important thing we would not need art, we would not need literature. History would be sufficient. We go to literature for that which speaks to us in time and outside time.

It is time that black and African writers woke up from their mesmerism with subject. By it they gain a brief success, a small flutter of fame. Then with time the work sinks; but other works whose subject was perhaps less sensational, but whose art is more compelling, make their way through time and win the appreciation of eternal readers.

The first freedom is mental freedom. We have to seize the freedom to be what we can be, to write whatever we want, with all the mystery and fire of art. It is our responsibility to illuminate the strange corners of what it is to be human.

Literature is the index of our intelligence, our wisdom, our freedom. We must not let anyone define what we write, what we see as worthy of playful or profound investigation in words. “The aim of art,” wrote Aristotle, “is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”

Not the appearance, but the inward significance, radiated from the genius of inner freedom.

*Source theguardian

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Rapper David Banner Makes Film About African Deities
December 11, 2014 | 0 Comments

images (2)Walking with Gods is a live-action, superhero series. It is about a man whose godly powers are realized only when his inner being is balanced and he truly believes in the power within. It all begins when Aket Heru, son of a celestial king is cursed. Aket’s jealous older brother, Liel, becomes aware that their father will ignore natural order and install Aket as king, upon his death. tumblr_msnnrwXyyf1qcbk0xo1_500Angered, Liel invokes the evil spirit Setus. Setus fools Liel and destroys the family, but keeps Aket for entertainment. Aket’s memory is erased and he is forced to travel through the ages not knowing his true God like power. Setus plays an evil game and Aket murders his girlfriend, Lisa. After the murder, Aket’s true power awakens. Aket must now fight to restore his full power and break the curse. In order to do so, Aket now Alex Light, must believe in his godly power and embrace his true destiny. *Source allblackmedia]]>

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Reggae Vibe, Ebola Message: African Superstars Try To Go Viral
November 11, 2014 | 0 Comments

It’s the biggest Ebola song yet.

Mariam and Amadou, both from Mali, add their voices to the song "Africa Stop Ebola."

Mariam and Amadou, both from Mali, add their voices to the song “Africa Stop Ebola.”

Just as stars like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder came together in 1985 to sing “We Are the World” and raise money for Ethiopian famine relief, 12 acclaimed African musicians have united to marry music and message.

The reggae song is called “Africa Stop Ebola” and features legendary West African musicians like Tiken Jah Fakoly andKandia Kora from Guinea, along with influential rappers likeDidier Awadi from Senegal. The French company 3D Family produced the song.

Kora and fellow musician Sekou Kouyate, also from Guinea, wrote the song. Fakoly began to recruit West African artists to lend their voices. Most came to Paris to record; a few sang from their countries. The song took about a month to assemble.

In French and in local African languages, the supergroup sings about an “invisible enemy” that can be defeated. They sing of the need to “have confidence in doctors” and to rid Ebola victims of the stigma they face. The track has been getting airplay in West Africa since its release last month.

Music has been part of the fight against Ebola. Artists in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have produced several pop songs since the beginning of the outbreak, emphasizing that the virus was indeed real and that “no touching” was a good rule to stay safe.

The producers of “Africa Stop Ebola” believe it’s important now to send a message of hope, says Carlos Chirinos, an instructor at New York University who studies media and social development and has been involved in past charitable campaigns using music. The French production company called on him to offer advice on the lyrics.



“The positive stories about the survivors in Africa are not coming out enough,” says Chirinos. One of the most important points to get across, adds Susan Krenn, director of a health communication center at Johns Hopkins University, is that “we can beat this back.”

The song will help in other ways. It will soon be released via online music retailers, including iTunes. Profits will go to the international health group Doctors Without Borders, which has been on the ground in the hardest-hit countries since the spring.

Meanwhile, Michael Sappol, historian at the National Library of Medicine, thinks the next Ebola song should be produced in the U.S., with the message: Don’t panic here — help West Africa.

*Source NPR

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Why Paw paw and I separated —Aki
November 9, 2014 | 0 Comments

aki-new-3 (1)It took a while to get the comic actor, Chinedu Ikedieze, MFR, a.k.a Aki for an interview. It almost confirmed the rumour doing the rounds that the comic actor is running away from the press, but he debunked it when SEYI SOKOYA eventually caught up with him in Lagos. He revealed what kept him away, spoke on his marriage, acting career, the industry, among other issues. Excerpts: Do you fear the press? It’s been long that this session should have held but for your unavailability… It is not as if it is not easy get Aki or that I am running away from the press. The truth is that my job, especially the one I told you about some months ago, has kept me busy. Most of the time you cannot predict your movement. One can receive a call for one project or another at any time. I would say it has really been challenging and also interesting. To me, this job is just as if we are freelancing because the money comes from different places. I will definitely attend to any call from my immediate constituency because that is where I make a living. Considering the fact that you have been busy since the beginning of the year, would you say you don’t have time for yourself? Yes, I do. What I usually do is that I take a time out after a hectic work. I travel and I may leave one of my phones on in case of any important call. Most times when I am off work, my management team takes care of other things. My brother, I must take time to free myself from any stress either for months or weeks because life is very vital. One is only useful when one is alive. My body is the engine room of what I give out. If I don’t have the physical energy, I won’t be able to give, as well as sustain my best. I have to make sure that my body and soul are in order. This is why I go on vacation. I also unwind, but it is not what I do all the time. I have reduced the number of times I go to club as a married man. You will agree with me that there are some things that I would have to minimise because I have much more responsibilities now. More so, I have exercise apparatus in the house to keep me fit. I love reading books and playing games, especially the play station. I have a lot of things that can take my mind away from acting for a period of time. Has marriage denied you of enjoying life again? No. The life of a bachelor is different from that of a married man. It is expected of you to respect your spouse. One has to be conscious and make an adjustment on the kind of life one lived before settling down. A responsible man must always be conscious and always stay around his family. How has life been as a married man? It has been wonderful and interesting. I thank God for it. As I said earlier, it requires more of responsibility than when one was living the life of a bachelor. I really enjoy my marriage and I thank my understanding wife who takes care of the home while I am away. What is stopping you from joining the list of celebs that have shown interest in politics? I would encourage anyone who is interested in the Nigerian politics system to do so because it is a good development. We need such faces in governance. Personally though, I cannot give a definite answer to that. The fact, however, remains that we are all part of the game of politicking and this is the only way we can bring change to the country. Let’s wait and see the outcome because I don’t always delve into things without cross-checking. If you eventually declare your interest in politics, which position would you opt for? That would be determined by my people. They have the final say on that. Could it be true that the interest of celebs in politics is as a result of the purported wealth being amassed? I will not agree with that. I don’t think there is any truth in that because it has no basis. We are human beings and most of us are intellectuals. Anyone that wants to go into politics should have it at the back of his or her mind that they would bring change and help the people. In your own take, do you believe that celebrities can bring the change the people really want? It is an individual thing because dreams are different from one person to another. For me, I would say yes, we can bring about that change. Shakespeare says that: “The mind is like a basket, no one knows what the other person is carrying.” Generally, we are all instruments of change, and from the things we do, we are like evangelists who reveal the unknown to the public, especially things that are happening in the society. So, if we can achieve this dramatically, we can bring it to the reality. I believe the mindset of every entertainer going into politics is to set a standard and bring positive change to the nation. Back into acting, it seems you did not discover yourself until Paw Paw joined you in the industry? It wasn’t like that. I started acting in 1998 while I was still an undergraduate and I have done some major jobs between 1999 and 2000, especially as supporting lead role. In fact, I was almost there before Paw Paw surfaced; he started acting in 2001, but he was not famous. God miraculously picked the two of us and featured us in a movie which gave us a break among others of such stature as ours. I believe we were not the only ones with  small stature. It was a unique combination which opened the people’s eyes as well as gave the industry a new face. Remember, I did not start acting with the comic aspect. Back in my secondary school days, my friends knew that I was a funny person. Everything that happened was for a reason. I guess it was time for people to know the other side of me, which also gladdened my heart. I would say that our coming together stirred the comic thing. Do you sometimes think you guys might not have been famous if you had not come together? I don’t see it that way. As I said earlier, it was a divine connection. God has a purpose for bringing us together and every man has his time and season. Despite our small stature, which many people see as a disadvantage, fame still located us. The coming together of Aki and Paw Paw was a prestige to us and a plus to the industry because it was a usual way of shooting movies before we were discovered, especially witchcraft or any other movie. The whole thing changed when we came on board. We brought stories that happened to us personally to the screen and before we knew it, the combination became hot cake in the market. Could you recall how you discovered acting? aki-and-wifeI studied Mass Communication from the Institute of Management and Technology in Enugu. Before then, back in the secondary school, I was a member of arts and drama club and as a boy, I used to do ministrations in churches. I would say all these built my character as an actor, but I wasn’t seeing myself as an actor. I was just doing it for fun until I got admitted to IMT where I eventually developed an interest for acting. In 2004, I went to New York Film academy for 8 weeks workshop. The little knowledge I got there has been helping me a lot, but it was not easy, especially the disappointments I usually encountered whenever I went for auditions. It was really challenging, but I did not relent despite the fact that I had to shuttle between school and going for auditions or locations. It was tasking, but I eventually succeeded. How successful are you as an actor? I am contented and satisfied with where God has placed me today. I really appreciate how God has lifted my career. I am happy and fulfilled, but I still have more to achieve and until I do that, I won’t be completely satisfied. Could you recall you guys’ meeting point? It was easy for me to shuttle between school and locations in Enugu back then, but Paw Paw usually came from Aba. I had been in the industry before him and, according to him, he had been longing to meet me and we eventually met in 2001 at a location. If not acting, what would you have become? As a Mass Communication undergraduate then, I was hoping to be an independent producer and report for CNN or any top international medium. I even had the premonition that I would further my academics in law, even though I was offered admission to study at Madonna University in 1998, but I was already a Mass Communication student. How many movies have you done so far? Honestly, I have lost count of the movies I have produced. I have been producing since I started acting and I don’t have a favourite among them. I love all the movies I have shot because I love going to locations. I have even lost count of how many movies Paw Paw and I have done together. How do you draw inspiration? Sometimes, I wonder how I come about these things, but I would say I draw the inspiration from God and I mimic people a lot, especially when I was a little boy. My mum does that perfectly. I think it runs in the blood. Not that the pranks I played at my tender age coupled with what I gathered in my surroundings then gives me joy, but I have been able to bring them into acting to give people a clear picture of what is happening in different homes and the society at large. I love my parents’, unfortunately I lost my dad last year, but my mum was actually my source of inspiration because she is a woman that would ensure that her children have the best. You are always hyperactive in movies. Is that part of your scripts or you  act outside of the scripts? (Laughs…) The truth is that I always research on any scripts I lay my hands on. I usually have a mental picture of how I would want to see myself in a movie., especially when I want to play the role of a kid. I pick from how my cousin or nephew play in the real sense into the character and once I hear action, I am the character at that moment. Honestly, I have to be professional about it because if I don’t do that, I won’t be able to convince my audience. It has been interesting. Sometimes, I play double role, which is one of the advantages of my size. I could play an adult and also a child at the same time.  Have you ever been misrepresented as a kid? We are all human beings and any body that sees me for the first time would think I am a baby, but when I talk, my reaction would give the person an understanding that I am not. I did not create myself and I cannot change myself either. There is nothing I can do about that; no amount of plastic surgery can increase my height, except if God wants me to grow taller than I am. I have realised that we leave in a world where people are easily carried away. A lot of people are myopic and my perception about life is quite different from theirs. Sometimes an adult will see you and misbehave. Despite the cautioning, they still go ahead to laugh at me and sometimes, many even try to tease me. People don’t understand that the  Aki they see on the screen is different from Chinedu Ikedieze. Are you the only one with a small stature in your family?    Yes. I don’t know how it happened and I was not bordered to ask my parents about it. I just knew I was created that way.  I am the first son of the family. How were you able to handle the crisis that struck when you rang your wedding bell? It wasn’t difficult because I had an effective event planner. You will agree with me that there must be division of labour; I cannot be everywhere. News had it that you asked Paw Paw to vacate the apartment both of you once leaved in as a bachelor when you got married There was no clash between us. Then, the owner of the property wanted to use it, so we both had to vacate the apartment. The truth must be told, we cannot live together forever. We are adults and someday we would get married. We are not same twins, I am from Abia and he is from Imo. It’s just that we are good friends. It is not bad we go our separate ways, though; we are not far from each other. Are you satisfied with the state of the industry? I think we are growing everyday. The government even confirmed it. It shows they felt our impact in the growth of the country despite the fact that we did not receive any financial support from them. It is a welcome development that the industry has contributed immensely to the growth of the country. I think the ball in the government’s court to do the needful. For how long have you been living in Lagos? It’s been a very long time. In fact, I have been paying house rent for very long time. I love the delicacies here, especially yam powder, also known as Amala and beans. *Source]]>

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