By Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu
Being a keynote at the Kannywood Foundation film training workshop, on 2nd October 2022, Kano
A Tale of Two Cinemas
In November 2007, I was privileged to participate at the African Film Conference held at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, United States. It was a stellar gathering of what I call the ‘Nollywood Mafia’. The outcome of the conference was reflected in the publishing of selected papers in Viewing African cinema in the twenty-first century: FESCAPO art films and the Nollywood video revolution, published by the Ohio University Press in 2007. At the tail-end of the conference, a session called The SIU Nollywood Project Brainstorming was held on Sunday, 11th November 2007. Containing well-known Nollywood scholars such as Jonathan Haynes and Onookome Okome, as well as Nollywood stars such as Joke Silver, Francis Onwochei and Madu Chikwendu, among others (including those who study Nollywood from the fringes such as Brian Larkin and Birgit Meyer), the session sought to determine funding for research on Nollywood from the US National Endowment for the Humanities. A critical point of discussion during the session was the name ‘Nollywood’.
While discussions were on course for the funding mechanism, there was a feeling from the participants that the term Nollywood should be used to reflect all films from Africa, regardless of region, to create a unified view of African cinema. As the only northern Nigerian with a focus (and paper earlier presented) on Hausa cinema, I objected and spent time arguing why the term Nollywood cannot be used as a blanket term for African cinema. Continentally, films from north Africa from Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania are radically different from those produced by Nigerian Nollywood. Similarly, filmmakers from Chad, Burkina Faso, Senegal Cote d’Ivoire are more ethnographic to their cultures, which makes them required viewing for film and cultural studies across the world.
Even back in Nigeria, there is a radical difference between Hausa language cinema and the type of films produced and promoted by Nollywood. Labelling all African films as Nollywood is to cancel the identity of the portrayals of the films by different cultural groupings in the continent and project Nollywood as the only ‘African voice’. I am unsure whether the funding was obtained, but I know that the idea of labelling all African films as ‘Nollywood,’ regardless of cultural point of origin, was dropped.
By 2012 the Hausa film industry had literally crashed. The major marketers-cum-producers had all pulled out of the industry. Their shops in the major video markets in Kano were subsequently filled with clothing—particularly blouses and football jerseys; for these make more money than selling films. Others took to selling Smartphone accessories, while others returned to the farm and became serious farmers. The few Hausa megastar actors took to commercial advertising of noodles, milk and other household commodities – often moving from house to house with products’ marketers – relying on their faces and voices (making sure they introduce themselves in all the commercial jingles) to sell to increasingly hungry population caught in the vortex of economic depression. The frequency of releasing films drastically dropped because no one was buying. International Satellite channels like the Indian Zee World, especially their English-dubbed TV series, caught Hausa urban attention more than recycled Hindi film clones that were the hallmarks of Hausa video films. Consequently, many reasons combine to lead to the crash of the Hausa film industry towards the end of 2016.
The popular cultural industries in Kano were marketed into market hubs. The Bata market at the edge of Sabon Gari controlled the predominantly foreign films and music sales and the main distribution centre to other parts of Nigeria and Africa, where a sizeable market existed in Niger, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Cameroon, Chad and Congos.
When the Hausa video film arrived in 1990, it found a ready template to attach itself. The other was Kasuwar Ƙofar Wambai, located at the edge of the walls of Kano city and near a cluster of old colonial cinemas. The Wambai market focuses mainly on leather, textile and plastics. However, it was also the hub of audio tape sales – with marketers doing brisk business pirating old EMI, Polydor and HMV tapes of traditional Hausa musicians recorded in the 1960s. Road construction work at Bata in about 2003 created unfavourable conditions for many of the stall owners, and some decided to shift to the Wambai market. By 2005 the video film market had moved entirely to Wambai, which now became the new Bata.
The Wambai market, hitherto occupied by cassette dealers who ignored the Hausa film industry, suddenly became a virgin territory for film marketers and producers, with each opening a stall. In less than five years, it had reached its ascendency and crashed due to the massive congestion of producers and marketers – all selling the same thing. When I visited the market in May 2017, I counted less than ten stalls selling either videos or audio; contrasted to some five years ago when it was bursting at the seams with these products. The stalls have now been taken over by stocks of cheap blouses, football jerseys and cloned Smartphone accessories.
By 2005 the Hausa video film industry had become fully established, with over 1,600 officially censored releases. With an extremely few exceptions of less than 0.5%, they all revolve around a pastiche of Hindi films in one form or other aimed, as the video filmmakers themselves kept insisting, at urban Hausa children, youth and housewives. Yet, most Hindi films could be classified as musicals, especially due to their reliance on a strong dosage of song and dance sequences blended with a melodramatic storyline, which employs formulaic ingredients such as star-crossed lovers and angry parents, love triangles, corrupt politicians, kidnappers, conniving villains, courtesans with hearts of gold, long-lost relatives and siblings separated by fate, dramatic reversals of fortune, and convenient coincidences.
This stylistic technique provides a vehicle for echoing a fundamental Hausa emotional tapestry in three main creative motifs: auren dole (forced marriage, the love triangle, and the obligatory song and dance sequences—with an average of about six songs in a two-part video. With every producer trying to outwit everyone with more love triangles, song and dance routines, the market became saturated, and audiences got bored – and indicated this by refusing to buy the films.
Those actors lucky enough to be accepted early enough in the film industry came to dominate the system. This was actually imposed by the marketers who insisted on a particular actor appearing in a film they would sponsor or market because such actors were more bankable and guaranteed quick sales of their films. With this economic force behind them, such few (perhaps less than five) came to dominate almost every ‘big’ budget Hausa film. By 2017 their stars had started fading; audiences became tired of seeing them in nearly the same film with different names, and marketers dropped them. While still making films, they diversified their faces and voices to commercial advertising for major telephone service providers and essential commodities such as chicken noodles and milk and soup seasoning.
The fading of the fortunes of the megastars became evident with the ascendency and popularity of relatively unknown stars of a TV series, Daɗin Kowa, shown on Arewa24 satellite TV that began on 21st January 2015. Daɗin Kowa (pleasant to everyone) is an imaginary town that serves as a melting pot, housing Nigerians of various ethnicities and religions and yet living peacefully. In 2016 it won Africa Magic Awards over Sarki Jatau, an expensive lavish, traditionally cultural Hausa period drama.
The coming of Arewa24, initially conceived and funded by the United States State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism to counteract insurgency in 2014, merely placed another nail in the coffin of the Hausa video film market. Transnational in its outlook, the Arewa24 TV series provide a level of script sophistication unheard of in the Hausa film industry. Other Satellite TV stations, such as StarTimes, and Hausa Channels on Africa Magic DStv, including GoTV, became increasingly affordable. Showing a massive amount of Hausa films, they eclipsed the purchase of CDs and DVDs of Hausa films. Audiences prefer to watch for free than to go through the hassle of purchasing DVDs that often do not work and requiring DVD players, mostly Chinese knock-offs of international brands that often turn out dodgy.
The Internet provided the biggest blow to the decline of Hausa video films. With telecommunication companies competing for customers and undercutting each other in offering data plans, Hausa youth have more access to social media sites such as Instagram and YouTube. The latter, in particular, provided them with opportunities to upload hundreds of Hausa films for all to see. While this has increased the visibility of Hausa films worldwide, such popularity does not translate to return on investment, as most of the films were illegally uploaded to YouTube.
Another dimension of the new media political economy was the proliferation of Download Centers in northern Nigeria, with the largest groups in Kano. Operators of these Centers rip the CD of DVDs of Hausa films and convert them into 3gp formats and make them available to customers at N50 per film—with discounts given for volume purchase. A 1GB microSD card can pack as many as 20 films. The 3gp format makes it possible for people to watch the films on their Smartphones, which readily and rapidly replaced DVD players, which require a TV and electricity – something not always guaranteed in Nigeria. Often the Downloaders ‘lease’ the films from street vendors – children hawking the CDs and DVDs at traffic lights – for N100 per film, rip them off, and return back to the hawker who simply puts them back into its pristine cellophane wrapper and eventually sells it – thus gaining double profit. Both the various Associations of Hausa filmmakers and the Kano State Government’s Censorship Board had tried to stamp out the Downloaders, but without success, as the latter had become so powerful and organized that they formed various Associations. The punitive steps were usually to arrest them, fine them, and order them to delete the illegal ripped-off films from their computers. These measures proved so ineffective that a deal was worked out in 2017 between the filmmakers and the Downloaders to ‘officially’ lease the films to the Downloaders for a fee in the form of a ‘legal license’. However, these measures did not work because the Downloaders prefer to obtain their films cheaply rather than being registered with the Government as licensing the films. On the other hand, the Kano State Censorship Board simply asks them to register their business and charge them fees, regardless of their downloading bootleg business.
A final factor in the decline of the Hausa film industry by 2012 was the massive popularity of ‘Indiya-Hausa’ films. These were Telugu and other southern Indian films dubbed into the Hausa language by, first, Algaita Studios in Kano. When the marketers at Wambai market noted the popularity of these dubs, they also moved in and commissioned their own dubbed translations.
The original Telugu films were brought to Kano by an Indian national with full license to translate into local African languages. The first film translated by Algaita Studios was the Bhojpuri film, Hukumat Ki Jung (dir. S.S. Rajamouli, 2008). It was translated as ‘Yaƙi da Rashin Adalci’ (Fighting Injustice). Others that followed included Dabangg (dir. Abhinav Kashyap, 2010), Racha (dir. Sampath Nandi, 2012) and Nayak: The Real Hero (dir. S. Shankar, 2001). In an interactive session in June 2016, Buzo Ɗanfillo, the CEO of Algaita Studios and whose voice is used in the translations, told me that the Algaita Studio had translated 93 films by 2016. They were paid ₦80,000 by the Indian licensee of the films.
The first few films that appeared from the Algaita Studio from 2012 were considered novelties, providing relief from watching complete remakes of Hindi films by Hausa filmmakers or even the originals themselves. What made them more attractive, however, was the translation of the titles of the films in a single powerfully expressed word, or a couple of words, that seems to take a life of their own and communicate either adventure, danger or defiance. For instance, Nayak: The Real Hero (dir. S. Shankar, 2001) was translated as ‘Namijin Duniya’ (lit. Brave); Indirajeet (dir. K.V. Raju, 1991) as ‘Fargaba’ (Fear), and Velayudham (dir. Mohan Raja, 2011) as ‘Mai Adda’ (Machete). Referred to as ‘India-Hausa’ (Hausa versions of Indian films), they quickly became the new form of transcultural expression in the Hausa entertainment industry.
The Indiya-Hausa translations were massively successful and attracted audiences not attuned to Indian films in the first place. This can be deduced from the numerous comments on the Facebook pages of the Algaita Dub Studio (https://www.facebook.com/algaitadub/).
Their success created a public debate, mainly online on social networks, about their cultural impact. In the first instance, there does not seem to be any attempt by the translators to mute some of the bawdier dialogues of the originals – translating the dialogue directly into Hausa. Kannywood filmmakers latch on to this as an indication of cultural impropriety of the translated films. Additionally, the often-romantic scenes revealing inter-gender sexuality were not edited out by the translators since their focus is not the visuals but the voices. This, again, was pointed out by Hausa filmmakers as a direct attack on Hausa cultural sensibilities. Kannywood filmmakers accept that they appropriate Hindi films but argue that they culturally adapt the stories to reflect Muslim Hausa sensibilities.
Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu wrote from the Department of Information and Media Studies, Bayero University Kano, Nigeria. He is, among many other things, the former Vice-Chancellor of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.