This month’s imaginary film season looks at the rich world of African musicals. I’ve been thinking about this season for about two years now, so it’s good to finally write something down.
We start in the golden age of cinema (when 50% of Egyptian films were musicals), then swiftly skip to the 21st century. What will we find? Autotuned Hausa romance, stoner Ghanaian hip-hop, operatic adaptations, Jacques Demy in Dakar, a South African Grease and a Tuareg remake of Prince’s Purple Rain, of course.
Wedad (played by singing legend Om Kalthoum) is sold as a slave to a rich old man when her husband’s business fails.
WATCH OUT FOR ZOUZOU
In this class-conflict satire, Zouzou moves from a down-at-heel Cairo neighbourhood to the liberal world of university.
LA VIE EST BELLE
Democratic Republic of Congo 1987
A young villager (Papa Wemba) seeks his fortune in Kinshasa; music is in his heart and he has big dreams. He falls in love with Kabibi, but his employer’s husband wants a second wife and determines to marry her.
A gorgeous film. In this loose adaptation of Carmen, vivacious Karmen escapes prison by seducing Angelique (the prison warden) with her erotic dance. Mesmerising Senegalese music replaces Bizet’s score.
THE GOVERNOR’S NEW CLOTHES
Congo DRC/France/Belgium 2005
Music legend Papa Wemba (who died today) stars in an adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen tale of how power corrupts.
South Africa 2005
A modern Xhosa-language version of Bizet’s Carmen, set in the Cape Town township of Khayelitsha. Directed by English theatre and film director Mark Dornford-May.
NONE BUT THAT!
When Dina enters the glamorous world of show business, her success breeds jealousy among her family members. Loosely based on Brecht’s Deadly Seven Sins. Fun fact: the director now lives in Birmingham.
SAINT LOUIS BLUES (aka TRANSPORT EN COMMUN)
In this wonderful tribute to the movies of Jacques Demy, seven passengers in a shared taxi from Dakar to Saint Louis tell the story of their lives through song. I’m determined to screen this one day. Maybe as part of an African Musicals season?
COZ OV MONI 1
A stoner classic dubbed ‘the world’s first ever pidgin musical’. Mensa and Wanlov (aka the FOKN BOIS) spend a day chasing a debtor across Accra, with the plan to spend money on food, partying and women. I showed this film as part of a really disastrous African triple bill screening, where everything (including the laptop, the sound, the projector, the blackout) went wrong. It still makes me cringe. Though this film’s pretty fun.
Alero wants to be a rapper and musician, but her father expects her to become a lawyer when she graduates. I spent years trying to track this down, though now iROKOtv have finally acquired the rights, I can’t quite be bothered to watch it.
South Africa 2012
Set in a small town in the late 1950s, Afrikaans musical Pretville channels the bright colours and optimism of Grease. Beautiful teen Serah falls for local farmer’s son Dawid. Meanwhile her mother struggles to deal with feelings for an old flame, pop star Eddie Elektriek, who returns to Pretville after 25 years.
North Nigeria’s prolific film industry (known as Kannywood) is a synthesis of Bollywood cinema and Hausa culture. Ali Nuhu – one of Kannywood’s biggest stars – features in this autotuned masterpiece, about which I know nothing. (One film that I do know about is a Kannywood version of Titanic, which includes large chunks of the original film footage. I’m reading about this and other Titanic-inspired creations in African Appropriations at the moment)
COZ OV MONI 2
Mensa and Wanlov return for ‘the FOKN Revenge’, after a gang ambushes them in Coz Ov Moni 1. They spend the day tracking the gang members down one by one (with a detour via Transylvania). The music is great.
South Africa 2015
Mark Dornford-May’s second operatic adaptation moves LA BOHEME from 19th-century Paris to 21st-century Khayelitsha, where struggling artists, writers and actors are surviving on the margin of society. I saw this at last year’s Film Africa. It’s not a perfect film, but when it’s good it’s incredibly moving.
AKOUNAK TEDALAT TAHA TAZOUGHAI
The title translates as ‘rain the colour of blue with a little red in it’. Yes, that’s right – it’s a Tuareg remake of Prince’s Purple Rain. It’s what he would have wanted.
This is part four of a one-year plan to programme (but not actually produce) a new film season every month. Find the rest of my efforts in the Blog section.