Category Archives: Kano

Ramadan pieces from Last year: “Why, as a Christian, I Fast during Ramadan” and “Under the Mango Tree”

I have been reading back recently over several of the articles I wrote last Ramadan, when I was fasting alongside my Muslim friends in Kano. It was the third year I was fasting, and I had settled into the rhythm of the month. I did not fast this year, though, at points throughout the month I have wished I were. I think it may have made me feel a little bit more in tune with what is happening around me. As I never posted my articles last year, in part because I was never able to find a hard copies of them to include online, I figured, in honour of Ramadan, before it ends in the next few days, I would put up at least two of them right now. “Why, as a Christian, I Fast during Ramadan” published 20 August 2011 and “Under the Mango Tree” published 27 August 2011.

Breaking fast on the set of Jani-Jani, Kaduna, 29 August 2010. (c) Carmen McCain

“Why, as a Christian, I Fast During Ramadan”

20 August 2011

Recently, my blog was accessed six times with the search phrase “Is Carmen McCain a Muslim.” I’m not. I’m a devout Christian, but I can understand how some people might be confused. Most of my friends in Kano are Muslim, the people I write about are often Muslims, and this is the third Ramadan have fasted alongside my Muslim friends. When I brought up the issue on Facebook, several Christian friends told me they also had been confused about my religious identity because I had mentioned fasting, and in Christianity, one is not supposed to advertise one’s fast. Although there are also Christian traditions of public fasting, I tried to explain that ultimately I AM fasting with Muslims, but that does not mean I am any less a Christian. I won’t necessarily fast for Ramadan for the rest of my life, neither do I expect other Christians to do the same, though Christians in Bethlehem and other parts of the Arab world have done so for centuries. It is a personal decision I have made for the time being to participate in my community.

Last week, I walked into a Zoo Road studio a few minutes before maghriba with a bag of sliced watermelon. “Are you fasting?” novelist and scriptwriter Nazir Adam Salih asked me. “I am,” I said. “Kina taya mana azumi.” he said. “You are helping us with the fast.” I had not heard it put that way before but his expression felt exactly right. I am not as strict with my fast as a Muslim would be. When I am sick, as I was for the first week of Ramadan this year, I eat without any plans to later “make up” the missed days. But the experience of Ramadan and fasting out of love for my community has been one of the most powerful things in helping me empathize with my Muslim neighbors. This week, I share a piece I wrote three years ago in 2008, during my first Ramadan fast.

Ever since I knew I was going to be in Kano for a year, I thought that I would try to fast during Ramadan. First, I thought it would not be appropriate to eat in front of other people who are fasting, even if it’s just sneaking a meatpie and sachet of water from the canteen to my office at Bayero University; second, I thought it would be good to experience what millions of people, and specifically those around me, experience every year. As I told one of my friends on the first day of Ramadan, “If you are hungry, I will be hungry. If you are thirsty, I too will be thirsty.” The day before the fast began, I bought a book on fasting from an Islamic book seller to better understand fasting from an Islamic perspective—what my friends believe. But ultimately, what I hope to gain out of this is spiritual discipline practiced from the perspective of my own faith. Although not compulsory, fasting is a spiritual discipline in Christianity as well (Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert in preparation for his three years of ministry). I thought that, though I am Christian, I live among Muslims, so I will fast when they fast and pray when they pray. And I will hopefully grow in my own spiritual life.

Today, on the second day of Ramadan, walking wearily across campus to wait for the bus at around 5pm, I thought, maybe I should stop this. It’s not a requirement for me, and I’m finding myself dull, forgetful, distracted, irritable, impatient, on edge. It’s not easy to manifest the Christian “fruits of the spirit,” (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control), when I have not eaten or drunk all day. On further thought, as I was walking from the bus stop to my house clutching two packets of dates and a sliver of watermelon I had bought to break my fast with, I realized that perhaps that is the point of fasting, at least for me. It forces me to realize, humbly, how much of my good spirits, my mostly cheerful demeanor are chemically-based, physical attributes. I have been blessed with good health, with chemical balance, with a fairly even and laid back temper (though my good friends know the exceptions). Peeling back those layers of the physical, one comes closer to the core of one’s being, what is underneath the surface pleasantness—what comes out when there is no protective politeness—and it’s not always very attractive. I have thought often over the past few years of what Christian writer and thinker C.S. Lewis says in his book Mere Christianity, about the difference between human perspective and God’s perspective:

 “Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of [Nazi war criminal] Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man’s psychological make-up is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first tune, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.”

I meditate on this in relation to fasting. When fasting, those base human characteristics, the instincts, the first reactions, come out more dramatically, and you have to deal with them. You are impatient but you force yourself to speak patiently. You don’t feel gracious but you make yourself be gracious anyway. It becomes a discipline, training and subduing those initial reactions that surface more clearly when you are hungry and tired, and it encourages humility. You don’t have that easy excuse—oh sorry, I haven’t eaten yet today, and I can’t think clearly—because no one else has either. You become weaker and more vulnerable to your community while stronger in your individual will. This is spiritual growth—going beyond one’s personality to something deeper.

At the same time, you also become more aware of the joys of the physical. The pleasure that comes at the end of the day, especially when you are breaking the fast with other people. The lilting greeting “A sha ruwa lafiya,” “Enjoy quenching your thirst”—the sweetness of the crystallized sugar in a dry date when it is the first thing that has touched your tongue all day; the fresh wetness of a tangy orange or sweet watermelon or solid banana; the way the spicy flavours of Hausa shayi detach themselves and come one by one: cardamom, ginger, other flavours that I cannot yet identify. The first burst of energy after the sugar enters your blood stream and the pleasant stuffed feeling when your stomach is extended with tuwon shinkafa and miyan taushe or fried yam and potatoes, peppered tofu and kosai. Denied for 13 or 14 hours a day, the senses are heightened. Listening to the Ramadan service on the radio, the chanted Arabic, the call and response, it reminds me of listening to a mass—Gregorian chants in Latin—or a BBC broadcast of the Nine Lessons in Carols on Christmas eve.

These common elements of our faiths are what I am reminded of at Ramadan. Though Christians and Muslims have many differing religious beliefs we will never be able to agree on, at core, all three Abrahamic religions are linked by what Jesus identified as the “greatest commandments”: First, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” I believe that, beyond our differences, if we encourage each other in love to seek this truth, we will find peace. A sha ruwa lafiya.

–FIN

“Under the Mango Tree”

27 August 2011

One of my main joys of Ramadan this year, whenever it is not raining in the evening, has been to take a mat outside and sit under the mango tree that grows outside my window. I read or write or just lie staring up at the leaves above me, mind at rest, until the maghriba prayer is called and I reach for my packet of dates. I am close to the dirt there and the strands of grass that find enough sun to poke up under the trees. One evening I moved around the mat for an hour trying to move out of the path of a slow but persistent little snail who seemed to want to follow me wherever I went. Eventually, I placed a leaf into his path and then carried the leaf to a muddy patch far from my mat. A neem tree arches over the wall of my house, branches mingling with those of the mango tree and when I lie under them, I look up through layers and layers of leaves, watch them sway in the breeze, hear them rustling together, merging with the sound of the neighbor children outside the wall and the distant honk of horns on the main road. If I gaze up long enough, I feel like I am floating.

This week, when I spread the mat out under the tree I could see dark clouds billowing in the East and thought I might not make it to maghriba before the rain came. All the same, I piled up fruit in a basket, and took out newspapers, a pen and a notebook. The leaves were mostly silent that evening. The air was still, in anticipation of rain. I lay on the straw mat under the tree, and thought, as the thunder began to break and the first fine droplets filtered through the trees, about the motion of the universe. This flat soil I lie on, this surface of the planet that seems so solid and still, is actually spinning through star studded space. This sun I am waiting to set on my face of the planet, my little patch of ground under the mango tree, is only one star in one galaxy out of a million. The sun does not, in fact, move down towards the horizon. We are the ones, clinging to this fragile planet, who are spinning past fire.

There is a peace in these moments, an awareness of my own smallness, as I listen to the rhythms of the earth. I am both as still as I will ever be and hurtling through space.  I am reminded that when we fast we acknowledge our own desires are ephemeral in the vastness of God’s design. We give up pleasures, which we may at times over-indulge, joys, not always necessary for life. This year, I have realized how weighted down we become with loves, which are not ours to own, the heaviness of commitments to unnecessary habits. It is sometimes in the pain of giving up that which we think nourishes us, gives us life, that we float free. In this time of discipline, it is only when the sun passes that we realize the sweetness of its fruit.

One of my favourite music videos is “Patience” by reggae artist Damian Marley and rapper Nas. The musicians quietly ask piercing questions about life, challenging the arrogant presumptions of the privileged about “modern development,” sound-byte answers in the face of eternal mystery. The musicians emerge out of a backdrop with the perspective of a Renaissance painting, camera sweeping through layers of images, through clouds past pyramids, into a mythic African past:

We born not knowing, are we born knowing all?

We growing wiser, are we just growing tall?

Can you read thoughts? can you read palms?

Can you predict the future? can you see storms, coming?

The Earth was flat if you went too far you would fall off

Now the Earth is round, if the shape change again everybody woulda start laugh

The average man can’t prove of most of the things that he chooses to speak of

And still won’t research and find out the root of the truth that you seek of

Scholars teach in universities and claim that they’re smart and cunning

Tell them find a cure when we sneeze and that’s when their nose start running

And the rich get stitched up, when we get cut

Man a heal dem broken bones in the bush with the wet mud

Can you read signs? can you read stars?

Can you make peace? can you fight war?

Can you milk cows, even though you drive cars? huh

Can you survive against all odds, now?

Marley and Nas pace through a shallow river to where it spills over the edge of the world. Galaxies and planets stretch out above them: “Who made up words? who made up numbers?” Nas asks. “And what kind of spell is mankind under?”

I hear the song echo under the mango tree as dusk moves in, and hunger moves towards its end. The first time I broke fast for Ramadan in 2008, a friend took me home for dinner. We walked under the sunset, past the ancient sloping Kano wall grown over with grass, down winding paths through the old city, spitting out date seeds. I sat on a mat under the cloudy sky eating oranges, fried yam, drinking tea, tucking my skirt firmly around my ankles and mayafi around my neck as mosquitos began to bite. I answered in fumbling Hausa, those questions my friend’s mother asked, but I mostly sat quietly under the sky and listened to the chatter of teenage girls, the banter of young men, the good natured laughter of their parents. Above us the clouds scudded past in a darkening sky. After that first evening, I mostly broke fast with musicians and editors and actors on Zoo Road, sharing out quartered oranges and slices of watermelon, crispy kosai and fried potatoes served on a newspaper transparent with oil, hot thick koko sweet with sugar in plastic cups. As my Hausa began to improve, we’d have long conversations in the studios, about film and politics, music and religion.  At night, I’d speed home on an achaba,  moon rising overhead, as stars began to peak out from beyond the clouds.

Well into my fourth year in Kano, my days have grown busier. This week, as Ramadan draws to a close, I break the fast by myself on this straw mat, waiting for the sun to set or the rain to come, wondering which will come first. It’s good to be under the mango tree, under the leaves, under the clouds, beyond which stretch the stars. I am glad I am not inside with my laptop open to the insistent demands of the internet, emails that must be answered and people on Facebook demanding responses, the guilt-inducing cursor blinking on the blank white page of articles long overdue.

I let my mind sway with the trees. The rain comes before the sun sets. The ink on my page blurs into little wet patches. I slowly stand up and carry the straw mat, my basket of fruit, newspapers and books to shelter. Dark clouds are piled up in the east, blowing in with the approaching night, but in the west where the sun hovers on the horizon, the rain falls through light, glimmering and sparkling to the earth, watering the grass which thrives today and dies tomorrow. So many things we love are fleeting, the raindrops that fall from sky to soil, bushes that grow green and lush now, and fade to brown later, the light which rises with promise each day only to fall into dark. But it’s all beautiful while it lasts.

–FIN

[Please NOTE that the video "Patience" has been embedded into this blog post under Fair Use laws for review purposes.]

Duniya Juyi Juyi: Life through the eyes of the almajirai

Much has happened over the past few months, and I haven’t had the time I’d like to chronicle it on this blog, though I would like to catch up in the next few weeks.  Bear with me. More will come soon.

Today, though, I did want to quickly post a link to a film that is worth watching, Duniya Juyi Juyi.  I just heard from my friend and colleague Hannah Hoechner, a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford who is doing research in Kano on the almajirai, Qur’anic students who often leave rural areas to study with urban teachers. Because so many of the boys end up begging on the streets with little oversight from their teachers, the almajiri system is often blamed on much of the violence in the north. Hannah, who interacted with many almajirai and their teachers, has a different perspective. She was able to source funds from the Goethe Institut in Kano to help several of the almajiri boys she knows produce a film to tell their stories from their own perspective. Kannywood filmmaker Nasiru B. Muhammad helped them develop their stories about their experiences into a ‘docudrama’ script, and then the boys directed, acted in, and shot the film themselves. Kannywood editor Auwal Kabir Indabawa edited the film and seemed to provide a lot of support to the boys during the process of making the film. The film provides a unique look at the life of an almajiri through the eyes of the almajirai.

Before the screening of Duniya Juyi Juyi at the Goethe Institut on 27 October 2011, (left to right) Hannah Hoechner, Kabiru Idris, Abdullahi Yahaya Sa'ad, Muhammad Naziru Usman, Buhari Murtala, and Auwal Kabir Indabawa. (c) Carmen McCain

The film has now been uploaded and is available for watching on flash here, with this introduction by Hannah. For those in Nigeria, it’s best to pause it and let it download for about 5 minutes before starting to watch. I have had my bitmeter tracking how much bandwidth it takes up, and I didn’t think it had taken up that much (then I checked my MTN credit–and it has used more than I thought… though I do think MTN is actually eating up more credit than it should be recently.)

Below is the column I wrote about the premier of the film at the end of October:

Duniya Juyi Juyi: Life from the eyes of the almajirai

 Written by Carmen McCain Saturday, 05 November 2011 05:00

“I don’t give to them,” a friend told me one of the first times I came to Kano and saw the young children begging with their small plastic bowls in traffic, in front of restaurants, hanging around offices. “I don’t like to encourage the system.”  This was one of the first times I heard an explanation of the almajiri (disciple) system, in which young boys travel from mostly rural areas to attend Qur’anic schools in town, usually depending on contributions from the community or compensation for labour for food and clothing. The seeming incompatibility of the almajiri system and the “modern life” has meant there has been much public denunciation of the system.  The almajirai are seen as the source of urban crime and ready recruits for sectarian violence.  Little attention is paid to the voices of the almajirai themselves.

On Set of Duniya Juyi Juyi (left to right) Ikira Mukhtar, Muhammad Naziru Usman, and Ismail Abdullahi (c) Hannah Hoechner

This lack of representation has been addressed by a new docudrama Duniya Juyi Juyi (How Life Goes), which was directed, shot, and acted in by almajirai themselves. At the beginning the almajiri system is explained in the voice of one of the boys as we see the streets of Kano from their perspective. At the end the nine boys from the three different schools involved in the project, Abdullahi Yahaya Sa’ad (director), Buhari Murtala (assistant director),  Auwalu Mahamud (location manager), Isma’il Abdullahi (welfare), Sadisu Salisu (camera),  Muhammad Naziru Usman (assistant camera), Ikira Mukhtar (lead actor), Kabiru Idris (lighting), and Anas Ali (actor), introduce themselves and speak their messages directly to the audience.

The almajirai crew with Kannywood's Nasir B. Mohammad and Lubabatu Mudaki (c) Hannah Hoechner

The drama enclosed within this documentary frame is a simple linear story about a young boy Aminu’s (Ikira Mukhtar) life from his father’s (Sani Garba S.K.) decision in the village to send him to the city for school because “it is difficult for a boy to study in front of his parents” to his introduction to the malam (Husaini Sule Koki) who will teach him the Qu’ran.

Aminu leaves the village with his father to go to school. (c) Hannah Hoechner

Aminu learns how to survive without the comforts of family, from finding a place to sleep, water for ablutions, the ever-present search for food, and the struggle to study while hungry, to settling into the life at school, being given domestic work by a housewife (Lubabatu Mudaki) and work in a shop by a shopkeeper (Mustapha Musty), and finally the happy completion of his studies. Although their hardships are highlighted here, this is a fairly positive portrayal of the life of an almajiri, presenting arguments about their own worth made by the boys themselves, all of whom are now in their teens but many of whom started their Qur’anic studies as young boys.

Aminu (Ikira Mukhtar) with his malam (Husseini Sule Koki) (c) Hannah Hoechner

The malam is rarely critiqued here. Though he threatens Aminu with a beating should he run away, he is a reasonable and kind man who puts up patiently with the many young boys in his care. The critique the boys make and the message they have are instead for the communities in which they live, to the people who assume they are thieves and rascals, those who sneeringly tell them their parents don’t love them, or those households who think of them only as nearly free labour and not as people.

A housewife (Lubabatu Mudaki) hires Aminu but places more priority on the work he does in her house than on his studies. (c) Hannah Hoechner

What I found most remarkable about the film was that although the boys were trained in filmmaking by Hausa film professionals and several Kannywood actors helped add polish to the film, the preproduction and production of the film was carried out by the almajirai themselves.  The film medium becomes a powerful way to communicate their experiences to a larger audience.

I attended the premier of the film on Thursday, 27 October, held at the Goethe Institut in Kano, the sponsor of the film. Arriving at the Institut around 3pm, I was given food by the almajirai and spoke with producer Hannah Hoechner, a German PhD candidate at Oxford University whose research on almajirai had inspired her to make a film in which almajirai could speak for themselves. The nine boys who worked on the project came from schools in Sharada, Sabuwar Kofa and Albasu. In Albasu, the malam chose from the oldest ones to participate in the project. In Sabuwar Kofa, Hoechner chose those she knew best, and the boys from Sharada were those almajirai she taught English through the NGO, Child Almajiri Empowerment and Support Initiative. She approached Frank Roger of the Goethe Institut to fund the film and spoke warmly of his untiring encouragement. Although there were some fears from parents about the boys appearing in films, the malams were fully supportive of the project, not as a way for the boys to make money (the film was distributed for free rather than sold), but for them to tell their own stories.  In the evening before the film was shown, a bus arrived from Albasu with several malams and dozens of their students. The malams sat on the front row of the crowded outdoor theatre and seemed to fully enjoy the show, laughing and nodding in appreciation as they saw their lives re-enacted on screen.

I was also struck by the presence of Kannywood professionals, who interacted kindly and easily with the almajirai. Nasiru B. Mohammad who had trained the boys in scriptwriting and directing, did not make the screening, but when I arrived at the Goethe Institut, Auwal Kabir Indabawa, the Kannywood cinematographer and editor who taught the boys how to use the camera and had edited the film, was already there. He seemed to have become something of a mentor to the boys, guiding them as they prepared for the screening, listening to their ideas and making suggestions about how to present themselves to the crowd. He stayed with them until the end of the show. He described to me how he would leave their mistakes in and then teach them during the corrective editing process how they could improve next time they make a film.

Director of Duniya Juyi Juyi, Abdullahi Yahaya Sa'ad, and editor, Auwal Kabir Indabawa, share a laugh before the premiere of the film at the Goethe Institut, 27 October 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Beyond a project for the almajirai to tell their own stories, the training the boys received opened up a potential career in film to them, a possibility the boys I spoke to expressed an interest in.  During the time for feedback after the screening, Mustapha Musty called on the government to support these students for further education in filmmaking.  Among other Kannywood practitioners who came to show their support were Bala Anas Babinlata, Hafizu Bello, Mustapha Indabawa, Lubabatu Mudaki, Maryam Sulaiman, Hajara Usman, and others. Also in attendance was the Commissioner for Information of Kano State and members of the Department of Mass Communication at Bayero University who had done initial training sessions with the boys.

The almajirai with Mustapha Musty. (c) Hannah Hoechner

While this film is groundbreaking in the presentation of the stories of almajirai as told by themselves, there are still voices that are not completely heard in this story. As male-centred as the almajiri system is, almost all of the women in the film were shown in a negative light. The selfish housewives who employ the boys were contrasted with the kind and fair-minded male shopowner who takes Aminu under his wings. In the making of the film itself, the boys most featured were teenagers, rather than the youngest and smallest boys who are often the most vulnerable. However, the representation of women might be explained by the fact that this film actually is from the eyes of these boys and that in work as domestic servants they likely interact with women most often. Similarly, the boys stage a conversation, where they critique the way the littlest boys are sent away from their parents, saying that parents who send small children should come and regularly check on them to make sure of their conditions. The film illustrates that the almajirai can both appreciate the benefits of and be critical of the problems of their system of education.

Little boys in the village draw water from a well under the eyes of politicians in the early part of the film. (c) Hannah Hoechner

Ultimately, the film reminded me of what drew me to the study of Hausa films in the first place, the way the industry gave ordinary people the power to tell their own stories. While Kannywood is a professional industry with a thriving star system, in projects of this sort, you can catch a glimpse of its roots and the exciting potential that a low budget film technology offers to the smallest and most often maligned members of society to tell their own stories and make their voices heard.

At the screening for Duniya Juyi Juyi, (left to right) Kabir Idris (lightner, in yellow), Abdullahi Yahaya Sa'ad (director, in gray), and Buhari Murtala (Assistant Director, in yellow) with supporters (c) Carmen McCain

“Equestrian Elegance at Sallah-time”: a review of the documentary by Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu and Bala Anas Babinlata

A little late, but Barka da Sallah! Eid Mubarak. Da fatan an yi sallah lafiya.

In today’s column in Weekly Trust, I reviewed the documentary Equestrian Elegance, written, narrated, and produced by Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu and directed by Bala Anas Babinlata. To read the column on the Trust website, click on the link, to read the hard copy, click on the photo, or if you have slow internet, just read the piece below:

Equestrian Elegance at Sallah-time

 Written by Carmen McCain Saturday, 12 November 2011 05:00

Before I moved to Kano in 2008, I had heard much about the Sallah celebrations as a “tourist attraction.” Expatriate acquaintances both in Nigeria and outside the country told me of travels to Kano to experience the colour and pageantry of the annual event. In 2008, I attended my first “Hawan Sallah” at the emir’s palace and two days later stood with a friend as the parade of horses and riders, hunters on foot and men on stilts, processed past her Fagge house on the outskirts of the old city. At the centre of it all was the magnificent emir Alhaji (Dr) Ado Bayero, who rode under a twirling silk umbrella. He was greeted with cries of blessing from the crowd, their fists upraised in salute. [For photos of the the "Hawan Nassarawa" during Eid el-Fitr I attended in 2010, click to my flickr album here or for the blog post about it, click here]

What most struck me as I stood with crowd on both days was the community feel of the festivities: onlookers calling out the names of the riders, riders shouting down greetings to friends, the genuine affection in the salutes to the emir. This sense of familiarity is captured beautifully in the 2009 documentary film, Equestrian Elegance: the Kano Sallah Pageantry Festival written, produced and narrated by Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu and directed by Bala Anas Babinlata. Professor Abdalla of Bayero University is one of the most grounded and prolific scholars of Hausa popular culture, with dozens of books and articles published both locally and internationally. His most important contributions, however, go beyond academic scholarship to actual interventions into popular culture: among which was his founding and moderation of the Finafinan Hausa and marubuta yahoogroups, important critical forums for dialogue about Hausa popular literature and film;  the organizing of concerts and award shows for Hausa musicians, and his innovative creation of what he calls “Hausa classical music” by recording Hausa traditional instruments being played without singing. Professor Abdalla also spans the world of scholarship and art with the films put out by his production company Visually Ethnographic Productions.

The documentary Equestrian Elegance (1 hour 28 mins), which was shot in 2008 but has not yet been released for commercial distribution, covers the four days of parades through Kano city during Eid al-Fitr: “Hawan Sallah,” “Hawan Daushe,” “Hawan Nassarawa,” and “Hawan Dorayi,” and the additional day of pageantry “Hawan Fanisau” during Eid al-Adha. A narrative voiceover by Professor Abdalla, explains the events and an innovative animation traces along a map the parade route taken each day, but the film mostly celebrates the details of the festivities from the sunrise on the first day of Sallah to the sunset on the last day. Within this symbolic frame, the rhythm of Sallah is measured out by each procession out of and back towards the palace.

While I admittedly grew a bit weary about an hour into the film, I think the attention to detail here is important. Professor Abdalla told me that the unhurried pacing was intentional: he wanted the film to “unfold in very slow motion, so you can absorb the details.” The focus here was on capturing “the pageantry. Every horse is different. Every rider is different. People stay out there three hours watching and don’t get tired.” His goal was to show the “high level of refinement” in the Sallah parades and the “structural elegance of pageantry.”

Such elegance is captured in the beauty of the cinematography: the close-ups of the courtier crouching to perform the morning gun salute and his graceful almost balletic twirl through the gun smoke; the rich texture of both horse and rider being robed in layer after layer of damask in preparation for the parade; the hazy glow of Kano swathed in harmattan during the final day of “Hawan Fanisau.”

But beyond presenting the elegance of the event, Professor Abdalla told me that another goal was to present to a global audience that sense of community surrounding Sallah. Although Kano’s Sallah festivities are probably some of the most photographed annual events in Nigeria, the photographs taken by tourists are often formally beautiful but distancing. There is little knowledge or intimacy in them.  Here, however, as Professor Abdalla points out you “can see the sense of community. It’s like carnival, a street party, with mom and dad and kids.” And it is this sense of community and lived tradition that I like most about the film. Kano is often either romanticized by the national and international media as a place of “timeless tradition,” an ancient exotic city of fairy tale, or denigrated as, what one foreign blogger termed, “an overgrown village,” a backwards northern outpost with a medieval mentality. Equestrian Elegance explodes both stereotypes, presenting the richness of tradition from insider’s perspective. One of the moments that best captures this delightful mix of light-heartedness and ceremony is in a shot where the dignified male space of the emir’s speech at the government house is playfully undermined by the little girl playing with a balloon directly behind him. As opposed to stereotypes about Kano under shari’a, women are not excluded from the celebration. While they may not be a part of the main spectacle, they take part in the larger community event. Girls and women hang off of balconies and push into the crowds to catch a glimpse of the horses and riders. As Professor Abdalla points out, Sallah is a family affair.

Part of what contributes to this “insider’s perspective” comes from the camera operators’ ability to get up close to their subjects, not the flattened close-up of a zoom camera but the intimate close-up of someone who is a part of the celebration. The subjects of the camera’s gaze sometimes seem to recognize the person behind the camera, and the film is often self-referential. While tourist photographs often attempt to capture the “timelessness” of the event, avoiding shots of other photographers or signs that situate their subjects in a particular modern moment, this film cheerfully revels in contemporary local knowledge of the event. The parade, as Professor Abdalla points out in his narrative commentary, is located in a very specific and recent history, including a route which began as part of the current emir’s Sallah visit to his mother.

There are multiple references to the way in which the event is viewed both through foreign and homegrown eyes.  The tourists become part of the spectacle. They are depicted laughing on the palace balcony or lining up in front of the crowd with their zoom lenses. But more significant are the frequent moments of easy familiarity when local photographers and videographers enter the camera’s view. The camera repeatedly captures the parade processing past photography and video shops, a subtle tribute to the many Kano residents who use the camera to tell their own stories. Professor Abdalla himself makes a cameo appearance towards the end of the film.

The cosmopolitan mix that makes up Kano is also found in the soundtrack of the documentary. The most striking piece of music is Babangida Kakadawo’s praise song “Sarkin Kano Ado Bayero” to the accompaniment of the kuntigi, used to great effect in the moments where the emir appears. However, the soundtrack is also sprinkled with Malian musician Ali Farka Toure’s guitar pieces and another song featuring Egyptian musician Hassan Ramzy. (Professor Abdalla argues the inclusion of these tracks follows international standards of fair usage since the looped excerpts are less than one minute.) While I initially thought the use of non-Nigerian music detracted from the “authenticity” of the film, I find convincing Professor Abdalla’s argument that he wanted to expose people to music from other parts of Africa, a goal in keeping with Kano’s history as a cosmopolitan trade centre.

The borrowed music, along with the slow pace, could be an attraction or flaw depending on the taste of the viewer. I was not a fan of the digital effects in the transitions, which I thought distracted more than they added to the film.  But these moments of imperfection are far outweighed by the strength in the completeness of the film, which moved beyond the picturesque palace durbar to cover the entire procession and its connection to the people of the city. Equestrian Elegance is an important historical resource that is valuable to outsiders trying to learn about the culture and traditions of Kano but perhaps even more so to those from Kano, who want to remember the richness of a lived tradition, Sallah as performed in the first decade of the 21st century.

 

Congratulations to Kannywood actress Sakna Gadaza and Musa Bello on their wedding, 9 July 2011

booklet distributed at dinner for Sakna Gadaza and Musa Bello's wedding

First of all, another apology for such a long delay in updating this blog, which had to do 1) with my internet server going on a near 2-3 week near-shut-down, 2) travel to Lagos to present at a “Nollywood in Africa, Africa in Nollywood” conference hosted by Pan-African University, 3) the electricity going out in my neighborhood for 1 week and 1 day (in which case, the battery and inverter I celebrated in my last post, has it’s limitations. There has to be a certain amount of electricity for the thing to charge). 4) A nasty case of food poisoning, which put me out of operation for at least two good days.

So, I am only just now posting this piece of Kannywood news, namely, the wedding of Hausa film actress Sakna Gadaza and Musa Bello on 9 July 2011. I attended two of the wedding events, an “Arabian Night” on 7 July, which I arrived scandalously late to even by “African-time” standards only about 15 minutes before the bride took off, partially because I was out shopping for the appropriate “Arabian” attire. 2) The dinner on 8 July, which I arrived on time for and got lots of photos.

So, congratulations to Sakna and Musa. A few photos below:

Sakna sings to her new husband Musa at the wedding dinner. (c) Carmen McCain

Money sprayed for Sakna, as Musa looks on (c) Carmen McCain

The beautiful bride, Sakna Gadaza (c) Carmen McCain

Camera phones were out in full force and Sakna's friend Kannywood actress Zainab Idris pulled out her best dance moves for the occasion (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood actress and comedienne Saratu Gidado was a great dinner companion. (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood actors Umar Gombe and Fati Bararoji trade thoughts before the event begins. (c) Carmen McCain

Hausa novelist and film producer Hajiya Balaraba Ramat Yakubu and a friend at the Arabian Night celebration for Sakna Gadaza and Musa Bello's wedding. (c) Carmen McCain

Baballe Hayatu has a quiet moment before the beginning of the event. (c) Carmen McCain

I have more photos not yet uploaded to flickr that I may add as I have internet time, so stay tuned for more pics.

Lecture and Exhibition on Alternative Energy today at Goethe Institut, Kano, the first place in Kano to go “off grid” with a solar-tracking system

The topic of renewable energy, as an environmentally friendly option, has always interested me, even as a young child, but I think growing up in Nigeria, where the power supply is unstable, made me even more passionate about the topic. Renewable energy is more than just a way to be “green;” it is a way to survive, and I am shamelessly evangelistic in my promotion of renewable energy as the best option for Nigeria. We have some of the best sun in the world, as well as excellent wind and hydro resources. We could also do very well with (my current favourite option) gasification of organic waste products. In fact, a family friend who works in renewable energy told me that agricultural factories could basically run themselves and staff housing on the energy produced from waste materials such as husks and corn stalks. Estates could potentially go grid-free as well as enjoying a tidy environment by gasifying their trash or sewer systems.

After spending nearly two and a half years suffering the vagaries of NEPA and refusing, out of principle (and also, I admit, fear) to get a generator, I finally invested in an inverter and battery system. Until a few minutes ago when NEPA came back on, I was working on a power supply from my battery system, without which I would not be able to do my work. The battery charges when I have electricity and supplies me with power to run my laptop, inkjet printer, tv, dvd player, and DSTV device, as well as recharge phones and recharge a battery lamp and phone (You would need a much larger battery and inverter system to run a refrigerator, heating element, or airconditioner). My battery needs about three hours of electricity for a full charge, and when fully charged can provide up to 10 hours of electricity. I use mine very lightly, unplugging printer and TV when not in use, and turning it off when I sleep or go out, and since I purchased it in around February, I have not had my battery run out even once. Although the initial investment is pricier than a generator, it is completely worth it to me. There is very little noise (just a light hum), no unpleasant fumes, and no having to go out and waste time in queues for petrol or having to handle petrol. I bought my system from the Indian company Su-Kam on Ibrahim Taiwo Road, but there are also other suppliers in Kano, such as Dahiru Solar Technical Services Ltd (which built the solar-tracking system for the German cultural liason, Goethe Institut, Kano office) on Zaria Road. My goal, once I am done with my PhD and actually earning a reasonable income (!) is to someday invest in solar and be free of NEPA altogether.

Therefore, I am particularly excited about a lecture and exhibition on renewable energy that is opening today at the Goethe Institut-Nigeria, Kano liason office, co-sponsored by the General-Consulate of Germany in Lagos and the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce in Nigeria. I wanted to get this up a bit sooner, but have been insane with writing deadlines. For those in Kano, seeing this before 2pm, Thursday, there will be  a lecture at that time on renewable energy, given by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Palz, the Chairman of the World Council Renewable Energy.

Venue: Goethe Institut Nigeria, Kano Liason Office, 21 Sokoto Road, Nassarawa GRA, Kano.

Time: 2pm, Thursday, 30 June 2011

The lecture will open a one week exhibition at the Goethe Institut, Kano on “Renewables-Made in Germany” on “renewable energy sources, technologies and systems,” which has recently been on display at the Goethe, Institut, Lagos. On July 11-15 it will move to Abuja and be displayed at the Hilton Hotel. The exhibition is open from 30 July to 7 July, 10am to 5pm and entrance is free.

The exhibition features German renewable energy technology and “answers questions such as:

What are the advantages of the different renewable energy sources and technologies?

How do the different type of renewable energy technologies work?

Under what conditions can these technologies be used?

The Goethe Institut, Kano, is a particularly appropriate venue to hold the exhibition since the Goethe Institut, which is housed in the old Gidan bi Minsta, parts of which were built back in the 16th century, is the first building in Kano state, and the third in the nation, to be powered by a solar tracking system, a mechanized system which follows the sun for optimum solar power absorption. Although I am generally a bit suspicious of agendas of cultural agencies, I have been very impressed with the Goethe Institut’s programming and support of Kannywood, and have written about it elsewhere in my column.

A few weeks ago I interviewed Frank Roger, the director of the Kano liason office for Goethe-Institut, Nigeria, about the solar energy project he initiated. Click on the photo below to read in hard copy, or scroll below the photo for the text.

In Kano, Goethe Institut goes off-grid with solar power

Saturday, 18 June 2011 00:00 Carmen McCain

When I visited Germany a few years ago, one of the things that most impressed me was that nation’s visible commitment to renewable energy sources. Driving through the countryside, I saw windmills to capture and convert the wind into energy; neighborhoods full of “passive houses”  built and insulated to need very little energy for heating during the cold winter season; and solar panels for conversion of sunlight into electricity on many houses. Why aren’t we doing more of this in Nigeria? I thought. Nigeria is much more blessed with sun than Germany and much more in need of alternate electricity sources. I was particularly excited when I heard that the Goethe-Institut, the German cultural centre established in Kano in 2008, had gone “off-grid” and was now run completely on solar power. In April when the Goethe-Institut hosted the one-day Kannywood FESPACO symposium, the lights were on, the computers were running in the offices. The sound speakers and the digital projector worked without a blink. There was no noisy generator filling the compound with fumes, just a large mechanized frame of solar panels to capture the sun.

I asked Frank Roger, the director of the Goethe-Institute, Kano, about their energy supply, and I’ve included parts of our conversation below. He gave me a little background about German energy politics, the Goethe-Institut, and their solar energy project, highlighting the wisdom of traditional architecture and the great possibilities of solar power to transform the way electricity is experienced in Nigeria and the world. The Goethe-Institut, which has been in Lagos since 1962, focuses on “intercultural exchange and the promotion of various fields of the arts.” When they established a liason office in Kano in 2008, they were invited by the Kano State History and Culture Bureau to move into the old adobe Gidan bi Minista building, the upper floor of which was constructed in 1909. The History and Culture Bureau believes that “the basic structure of the ground floor has been around since the 16th century. It was [first] used by title holders of the emir. In 1903 when the British came to Kano, the first British minister, who was called Frederick bi Minista, resided here. He established the first arts and crafts school in Kano here, so this building has a real history of cultural activities. Later on MOPPAN [Motion Picture Practitioners Association of Nigeria] offices were here, then the copyright commission. When I came in 2008, the house was basically not used.”

“The Goethe-Institut does not pay rent but maintains the building. We renovated the whole building, the plastering, you have to do quite often, checking it after rainy season.  We reconnected water supply and put on a new roof, but there was still the problem of energy supply. Even though this is not far from the government house, still the [electric] supply was very unreliable.

“The easiest way would be to buy a generator and just do it that way. But then the idea [of solar power] came up. There’s one thing about this building and the architecture. It has natural ventilation. It’s quite cool inside so you don’t really need air conditioning. Even though it’s April, it’s very comfortable inside. If you have these modern concrete buildings, you definitely need air conditioning for an office, and then it’s a bit costly when it comes to solar power. If you want to invest in solar, you first have to do a power load survey. You have to know how much you need for consumption, and according to that, then solar company will design you the system you need. That’s why you cannot just say in general what is the size or cost of a solar power system. It is individually designed according to your needs. So the idea was instead of following this generator mainstream that we look for an alternative, and since solar has a big boom in Germany, we said ‘why not?’ Kano is much more exposed to the sun than our belt in Germany with its bad weather and short days in winter. In Kano you have hours of daily sunlight. In August in the rainy season, you can expect 5-6 hours. And in March-April, up to 11 hours of sunlight, so it’s really obvious to use it.  The system we have was installed by Baba Dahiru [of Dahiru Solar Technical Services Ltd], a Kano businessman. And what he always says is that solar is free, and it is true. The energy from the sun comes for free, everyday newly. Of course, first you have quite high investment costs. If you want light at night, you also have to invest in batteries, which are not so cheap. But normally it pays off after about three years.

“We cancelled our NEPA account. Basically with our solar system, we run everything in this office now. We are off grid [disconnected from PHCN], and we have a fridge, our computers, the sound system, printer, copy machine, lights, lighting for exhibition, security lights at night that all run without any problem. We did the official opening in December, but had the test run since August, and it has run [from that time] without problems. You don’t really have maintenance costs. They come from time to time to make sure the screws are still tight. The lifespan of batteries is comparable to that of a generator, so after 6-7 years they have to be renewed. But the PV, photovoltaic panels [which capture the energy from the sun] run with 90% guarantee for 10-15 years, and at 80% rate of performance from 20-25 years, which is a really long term investment.

In addition to reliable electricity, using solar energy has other benefits. “There is no pollution. We don’t contribute to global warming now. There is no noise, which is important for our programmes.  Here you feel it’s a little paradise because it’s so quiet and peaceful. We have installed solar panels not only as our energy supply system but also looked at it as an educational project to spread the idea of alternatives to the oil, coal gas, fossil fuels. Even though Nigeria is at an oil peak now, there will be a time when the oil worldwide will be finished. So, it is a good idea now while you have a lot of revenue from the oil industry to look ahead and invest in future technologies.”

“There’s a lot of investment in renewable energy in Germany now. Wind power is the first, also offshore wind power stations on the North Sea, even solar, though we have bad sunlight, also hydro power, some geotherm, and biological waste.”

After the Fukushima nuclear tragedy following the earthquakes and tsunami in Japan, “it was quite a big debate in Germany. We have something like 17 nuclear power plants in Germany. The majority want to get rid of this risky technology. The people in the renewable energy industry said by 2020 they will completely replace nuclear power in Germany with renewable resources, solar, hydropower. That is like nine years from now.”

The ‘second coming’ of Kannywood

Still catching up on posts I am behind on. This feature piece  “The ‘second coming’ of Kannywood” was published over a month ago now in the Weekend Magazine of Weekly Trust on 21 May 2011, but gives a good summary of the challenges faced by the Kano film industry during the tenure of former ANPP Governor Ibrahim Shekarau, and the “director general” of the Kano State Censorship Board he appointed, Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim. I also interviewed film practitioners about their hopes as PDP’s Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, who had been governor of Kano State from 1999-2003, returns to take up another four year term, aided in his political campaign by the Motion Picture Practitioners Association of Nigeria and Kannywood stars like Sani Danja and D’an Ibro. As usual, to read the hard copy of the article, click on the photos below, or scroll down to read the text I’ve copied here.

The ‘second coming’of Kannywood

Saturday, 21 May 2011 01:42 Carmen McCain

Wednesday evening, April 27, 2011, Zoo Road in Kano, the street lined with Kannywood studios, exploded into celebration. Young men pulled dramatic stunts with motorbikes and shouted their congratulations to Hausa filmmakers. “Welcome back home, brothers. Welcome back from Kaduna,” directors Falalu Dorayi and Ahmad Biffa recall them saying. “We embrace you ‘Yan fim.’ We are together with you. We are happy that he has returned.”The win of PDP

Governor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, incoming governor of Kano State, and also governor from 1999 to 2003 (Photo Credit: Nigerian Best Forum)

candidate Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso as governor of Kano, his second tenure after a four-year term from 1999-2003, had just been announced.  INEC figures listed PDP as winning 46% of the vote with 1,108,345 votes, closely followed by Alhaji Salihu Sagir of ANPP with 43.5% of the vote with 1,048,317 votes.  To anyone familiar with the Hausa film industry, which according to recent National Film and Video Censor’s Board figures makes up over 30% of  the Nigerian film industry, this association of a political win with film was no surprise. Some of the most visible Hausa filmmakers have become increasingly politically active following a crackdown by the Kano State Censor’s Board, during which many practitioners and marketers of Hausa films had been fined, imprisoned, and harassed. While many of those associated with the film industry supported CPC and Buhari for president, the feeling among many filmmakers in Kano was that for governor any of the candidates would be better than ANPP. The two term ANPP governor and presidential candidate Ibrahim Shekarau, who had initially been passionately supported by

CIMG2970

Former Governor Ibrahim Shekarau, governor of Kano State fro 2003-2011, and ANPP presidential candidate in 2011. (I took this photo during his trip to Madison, Wisconsin in 2007)  (Photo credit: talatu-carmen)

at least some of Kano’s writers and artists, was now deeply disliked by most film practitioners, in part, for appointing Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim former deputy commandant of the shari’a enforcement group hisbah as director general of the Kano State Censor’s Board. Malam Rabo, as he was known, regularly went onto the radio to denounce film practitioners for ostensible moral defects and had overseen a board which often arrested filmmakers.

After surveying candidates in the gubernatorial race for how they would support film, the Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN), as the association’s president Sani Muazu reported, publically campaigned for Kwankwaso. Movie star,

Comedian Klint de Drunk, with Kannywood stars Sani Danja and Baban Chinedu at an Abuja press conference for NAISOD, 2010. (c) Carmen McCain

producer, director, and musician Sani Danja, who founded Nigerian Artists in Support of Democracy (NAISOD), and comedians Rabilu Musa dan Ibro and Baban Chinedu were among those who lent their star power to the new  governor’s campaign. This public support for PDP among some of the most visible film practitioners had put Kano based filmmakers in danger the week before. Angry about the announcement of PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan as winner of the presidential election, area boys hunted for Sani Danja, threatened other recognizable actors and vandalized studios and shops owned by Kannywood stakeholders. (For this reason, while some filmmakers have come out publicly in support of candidates, there are others who are reluctant to speak openly about politics. The Dandalin Finafinan Hausa on Facebook has banned discussion of politics on its wall, requesting members to focus on discussions of film.) By the next week, however, as Falalu Dorayi relates, the same area boys who had been hunting Sani Danja were now celebrating him.

Producer and makeup artist Tahir S. Tahir with Director Falalu Dorayi celebrating Kwankwaso’s win. April 2011 (c) Carmen McCain

While Governor-elect Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was seen as the champion of the filmmakers during the 2011 election cycle, it was under Kwankwaso, who first served as governor of Kano from 1999-2003, that the first ban on Hausa films was announced and that the Kano State Censor’s Board was created. Abdulkareem Mohammad, the pioneering president of MOPPAN from 2000 to 2007, narrated how in December 2000, the Kano State Government pronounced a prohibition on the sale, production and exhibition of films in Kano state because of the introduction of sharia. MOPPAN  organized and “assembled industry operators in associations like the Kano State Filmmakers association, Kano state artist’s guilds, the musicians and the cinema theatre owners, cassette sellers association” to petition the government to either allow them to continue making films or provide them with new livelihoods. It was the filmmakers themselves under MOPPAN who suggested a local state censorship board, which would ensure that film practitioners were able to continue their careers, while also allowing oversight to ensure that their films did not violate shari’a law. The censorship board was ultimately meant as a protection for the filmmakers to allow them to continue their work.

Outgoing President of MOPPAN, Sani Muazu points out that MOPPAN’s support of Kwankwaso was because he had promised re-establish the original intent for the censorship board, with a Kannywood stakeholder in the position as head of the Kano State Censorship Board, rather than an outsider who did not know the industry. Most Hausa filmmakers speak of the censorship board as a compromise between the film industry, the community and the government. Director Salisu T. Balarabe believes then Governor Kwankwaso was trying to follow the demands of those who voted for him, “If the government wants to have a good relationship with people it has to do what the people want.” Kannywood/Nollywood star Ali Nuhu said, “I won’t forget how in those three or four months [during the ban], they sat with our leaders at the time of Tijjani Ibrahim, Abdulkareem Muhammad, Hajiya Balaraba and the others.  They reached a consensus, they understood the problems that they wanted us to fix and the plan they wanted us to follow.”

Nollywood/Kannywood star Ali Nuhu on set of Armala with Executive Producer Aisha Halilu. April 2011 (c) Carmen McCain

Although the censors board had banned several films, such as Aminu Bala’s 2004 cinema verite style film Bakar Ashana, which explored the moral complexities of the world of prostitution, and enforced rules on censorship

Aminu Bala’s film Bakar Ashana that was banned by the Kano State Censor’s Board in 2004.

before marketing, filmmakers for the most part did not seem to have major problems with censorship until August 2007, when a sex scandal broke out in Kannywood. A privately made phone video of sexual activity between the actress known as Maryam “Hiyana” and a non-film industry lover Usman Bobo was leaked and became one of the most popular downloads in Kano. Alarmed by what some were calling the “first Hausa blue film,” although the clip was a private affair and had nothing to do with other Hausa filmmakers, critics called for serious measures to be taken. A new executive secretary Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim (his position soon

Maryam Hiyana, who was seen as a victim in the scandel, became an unlikely folk hero with stickers of her likeness on public transport all over Northern Nigeria. (c) Carmen McCain, 2008

inflated to the title of director general) was appointed by Governor Shekarau to head the Kano State Censor’s Board. He required each film practitioner to register individually with the board, an action he defended as being provided for in the original censorship law. Not long after Rabo was appointed, actor and musician Adam Zango was arrested and sentenced to three months in prison for releasing his music video album Bahaushiya without passing it through the Kano State Censor’s Board. He was the first in a series of Hausa filmmakers to spend time in prison. Former Kano state gubernatorial candidate and Kannywood director Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama was arrested in May 2008 on his return to Kano from Abuja’s Zuma Film Festival where his film Tsintsiya, an inter-ethnic/religious romance made to promote peace, had won best social issue film. He was accused of releasing the film in Kano without censorship board approval.  Although Iyan-Tama served three months in prison, all charges were recently dropped against the filmmaker and his record cleared. Popular comedians dan Ibro and Lawal Kaura also spent two months in prison after a hasty trial without a lawyer. Lawal Kaura claims that although they had insisted on their innocence, court workers advised them to plead guilty of having a production company not registered with the

FIM Magazine feature on Ibro’s time in prison, November 2008.

censorship board so that the judge “would have mercy” on them. These were only the most popular names. Others who made their livelihoods from the film industry, from editors to singers to marketers, spent the night in jail, paid large fines, and/or had their equipment seized by enforcers attached to the censorship board.

Although Governor Shekarau in a presidential debate organized by DSTV station NN24 had claimed that “the hisbah has nothing to do with censorship,” Director of Photography Felix Ebony of King Zuby International recounted how hisbah had come to a location he was working on and impounded four speakers and one camera, telling them they had not sought permission to shoot. Other filmmakers complained that there was confusion about under what jurisdiction arrests were being made. Although in a February 2009 interview with me, Rabo

Felix Ebony, director of photography with King Zuby International. (c) Carmen Mccain

also claimed that the censorship law was a “purely constitutional and literary law […] on the ground before the shari’a agitations,” the public perception seemed to be that the board was operating under shari’a law, perhaps because of Rabo’s frequent radio appearances where he spoke of the censorship board’s importance in protecting the religious and cultural mores of the society. Director Ahmad Bifa argued, “They were invoking shari’a, arresting under shari’a. If they caught us, we all knew, that they had never taken us to a shari’a court. They would take us to a mobile court [...] But since it was being advertised that we were being caught for an offense against religion, we should be taken to a religious Islamic court, and let us be judged there not at a mobile court.”

The ‘Mobile’ Magistrate Court at the Kano Airport where Censorship Board Cases were tried. This photo was taken in July 2009 during the trial of popular singer Aminu Ala. (c) Carmen McCain

The mobile court Biffa referred to seemed to be attached to the censorship board and was presided over by Justice Mukhtar Ahmed at the Kano airport. After the Iyan-Tama case came under review, the Kano State attourney general found the judge’s ruling to be ““improper”, “incomplete”, a “mistake” and requiring a retrial before a more “competent magistrate.” Justice Ahmed was transferred to Wudil in August 2009; however, censorship cases continued to be taken to him. In January 2011, popular traditional musician Sani dan Indo was arrested and taken to Mukhtar Ahmad’s court, where he was given the option of a six month prison sentence or paying a fine of twenty-thousand naira.  The decisions made by the board and the mobile court often seemed of ambiguous motivation. In 2009, Justice Mukhtar Ahmed banned “listening, sale, and circulation” of eleven Hausa songs, citing obscenity, but obscenity was rarely as easily identified as the cutting political critiques in them.

11 Songs banned by Justice Mukhtar Ahmed. (c) Alex Johnson

The effect of these actions was to relocate the centre of the Hausa film industry away from the flourishing Kano market, to Kaduna. Many filmmakers began to claim their rights as national Nigerian filmmakers, taking their films only to the National Film and Video Censor’s Board, bypassing the Kano State Censorship Board altogether. Such films were often marked “not for sale in Kano” and if found in Kano state were known as “cocaine,” a dangerous product that could, as Iyan-Tama discovered, mean imprisonment for a filmmaker, even if filmmaker had advertised, as Iyan-Tama had, that the film was not for sale in Kano State. Another side effect of these actions was the loss of jobs among Kano youth. Ahmad Bifa pointed out that “the Hausa film industry helped reorient youth from being drug-users and area boys to finding jobs in the film profession. Sometimes if we needed production assistants we would take them and give them money. I can count many that the Hausa film industry helped become relevant people to society. But Abubakar Rabo made us go to Kaduna to do our shooting. So the young people of Kano lost the benefit of film in Kano, […] That’s why there are a lot of kids on Zoo Road who went back to being thugs because of lack of job opportunity.”

Ahmad Bifa, on set of the Aisha Halilu movie Armala, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Although the impact of censorship on film was the most well known, the flourishing Hausa literary scene was also affected, with the director general initially requiring all writers to register individually with the censor’s board. With the intervention of the national president of the Association of Nigerian Authors, writers found some relief when Abubakar Rabo agreed to deal with the writer’s associations rather than with individual writers; however, there still seemed to be a requirement, at times ambiguous, that all Hausa novels sold in the state must be passed through the board. Rabo continued to make often seemingly arbitrary pronouncements about what he considered acceptable literature. In December 2009, for example, at a conference on indigenous literature in Damagaram, Niger, Rabo proclaimed that the board would not look at any more romantic novels for a year.

Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, DG of the Kano State Censor’s Board 2007-2011, proclaimed that he would not accept romantic novels for a year. International Conference on Authors and Researchers in Indigenous Languages, Damagaram, Niger, December 2009. (c) Carmen McCain

Those who protest the actions of the board do not have a problem with censorship so much as how censorship has been carried out. The original MOPPAN president Abdulkareem Mohammad argued that the intention of creating the censorship board had been one that would allow filmmakers to continue doing their work, “We really were doing things in good faith to ensure that things do work and eventually it is for the betterment of the majority.” He acknowledged wryly that there were flaws in the law that allowed for it to be abused, “I think that on insight, I would have done it differently.” Current president Sani Muazu continued in this vein saying that although the board had been meant to protect artists it had “become a weapon against artists.”  Director Salisu T. Balarabe says, “There was nothing wrong with making the censorship board but those put in charge of directing the board, sometimes put a personal interest into it.” Novelist and scriptwriter Nazir Adam Salih acknowledged “We have our faults. This is true. But the censor’s board was much harsher than it

Novelist and script writer Nazir Adam Salih passionately responds to Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, at the conference in Damagaram, Niger. December 2009. (c) Carmen McCain

needed to be. They put someone in power who didn’t know anything about the film industry, Malam Abubakar Rabo, who slandered and disrespected us.” It was this disrespect and the accompanying arrests that most seemed to upset film practitioners. Danjuma Salisu, who is involved in acting, lighting, and assisting production argued that Rabo’s actions were insulting to those whose careers in film “feed our children and parents and families.” Makeup artist Husseini Tupac argued passionately, “Film is a profession. It is a career.  In the same way a normal person will go to the office everyday, we will go the office, we do our work and get paid. When the honourable Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was governor nobody ever came out on the radio and said that actresses were prostitutes, that we were making blue films, that we were rogues. No one came and arrested us.” Producer and director Salisu Umar Santa shared a similar sentiment, saying that he and other

Director Salisu Umar Santa with Dawwayya Productions, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

professionals he worked with, like Rukkaya Dawayya and Sadiyya Gyale, had registered and done everything the board required for working in Kano State and yet Abubakar Rabo continued to say that filmmakers were not decent members of society. Producer and Director of Photography Umar Gotip said that he felt like a refugee having to leave Kano. “You are practicing your profession, to the extent that some people even have a degree in it, but they say you are just rogues and rascals. We had no human rights.” Director Falalu Dorayi, claiming that the Kano State Censorship board regularly demanded bribes, asked “How can the one who collects a bribe say he will reform culture.” Cameraman, editor, and director Ahmad Gulu put it this way: “You should fix the leaky roof before you try to repair the floor.”

Despite his ostensible position as enforcer of public morality, Rabo himself came under suspicion of wrongdoing on several occasions. In August 2009, he was taken before a shari’a court by the Kano State Filmmakers Association and accused of slander for statements he had made about the film community on the radio. In May 2010, he was also sued in by Kaduna Filmmakers Association for accusations he had made on radio and television in Kaduna.  In a strange twist, he accused twelve filmmakers, several of whom were involved the lawsuit, of sending him death threats by text message. Police from Kano came to Kaduna, arresting the one person on the list they could locate—Aliyu Gora II, the editor

Editor of Fim Magazine, Aliyu Gora II, and Filmmaker Iyan-Tama, both former inmates of Goron Dutse Prison, after a hearing in Iyan-Tama’s lawsuit against the Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, 22 July 2010. (c) Carmen McCain

of Fim Magazine, who was held for a week without trial at Goron Dutse Prison in Kano.  In an even more bizarre twist, in September 2010, Trust and other papers reported that Rabo, after being observed late at night by police in suspicious circumstances with a young girl in his car, fled from police. In the car chase he was also reportedly involved in a hit and run incident with a motorcyclist. After he was eventually arrested and released by the police, Governor Shekarau promised to open an inquiry into the

Filmmakers on location in Northern Nigeria on Sunday, 29 August 2009, read the breaking news Sunday Trust article: “Rabo arrested for alleged sex related offence” (c) Carmen McCain

case [as requested by MOPPAN], but Rabo continued as director general of the censor’s board and filmmakers heard nothing more of the inquiry.

The treatment of filmmakers had the perhaps unintentional effect of politicizing the artists and those close to them. Sani Danja told me he had never been interested in politics until he saw the need to challenge what was going on in Kano State. A musician told me his mother never voted in elections but that she had gone out to stand in line for Kwankwaso as a protest at how her children were being treated. Filmmakers used fulsome praises to describe their delight at Kwankwaso’s

Kannywood star Sani Danja prepares for his the first press conference of his organization: Nigerian Artists in Support of Democracy (c) Carmen McCain

return. Director Falalu Dorayi said “It is as if your mother or father went on a journey and has returned with a gift for you.” Producer and director of photography Umar Gotip said Kwankwaso’s coming was “like that of an angel, bringing blessing for all those who love film.” Even those who are not fans of PDP told me they wished Kwankwaso well, were optimistic about change, and expected him to fulfill his promises in several areas: First, most of them expected that he would relieve Rabo of his post and replace him an actual filmmaker, who as Falalu Dorayi put it “knows what film is.” Secondly, several of them anticipated actual investments into the film industry “like Fashola has done for Lagos filmmakers,” as director and producer Salisu Umar Santa put it, possibly in the form of a film village. And most Kano-based filmmakers I spoke to mentioned their hopes that others who had gone into exile would come back home to Kano. Producer Zainab Ahmed Gusau, who is currently based in Abuja wrote that, “My thought is to go back to Kano, knowing there will be justice for all.We thank God for bringing Kwankwaso back to lead us.”

Hausa film producer Zainab Ahmad Gusai at the Savannah International Movie Awards, Abuja, 2010. (c) Carmen McCain

Other filmmakers saw it as a time for reflection on how they can improve the field. Director Salisu T. Balarabe mused “If you keep obsessing over what happened, the time will come and pass and you won’t have accomplished

Hausa film Director Salisu T. Balarabe on Zoo Road in the days following Kwankwaso’s win. April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

anything. We should put aside what happened before and look for a way to move forward.”  Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama, the politician and filmmaker who was imprisoned for three months, focused on the positive, calling on filmmakers to continue making films that would have meaning and would build up the community.

Many also looked beyond the own interests of film to the entire community.

Ahmad Gulu, Kannywood cameraman, editor, and director, on Zoo Road in the days following Kwankwaso’s win. April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Ahmad Gulu, cameraman, editor, and director said “The change has not come to film practitioners alone. It has come to the whole state of Kano. Back then people would accept politicians who would put something in their pockets but now things have been exposed.” Star actor, director, and producer Ali Nuhu similarly pointed out that progress was not receiving money from politicians, saying that one of the most important changes Kwankwaso could bring would be a focus on electricity, drinking water, and children’s education. Writer Nazir Adam Salih said that if Kwankwaso could simply fulfill the promises politicians and leaders had been making for the past thirty years to provide electricity and water, he will have done his job. And finally two directors of photography Umar Gotip and Felix Ebony pointed to the need for peace and unity in the state. “He should try to bring people together,” said Umar Gotip. “This kind of fighting that has arisen between Muslims and Christians is not right. We should live together as one.”

Producer Bello A. Baffancy shows off his Kwankwaso support, Zoo Road, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

‘Yan Fim on Zoo Road following Kwankwaso’s win, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Threat of hate, hope of Love: Thoughts on the post-election crisis April 2011 (Also looking for stories of Christians and Muslims protecting each other)

Broken glass along Zoo Road on 19 April 2011 following the post-election violence in Kano, 18 April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

I had a really hard time writing my column last week. I felt mute. The post-election crisis was something I felt that poetry could address better than any sort of attempt to make sense of it in prose, which is why I have gone a week on this blog without posting anything about the violence that followed the presidential elections, other than Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream,” which expresses about how I felt last week, and a quickly composed poem that I wrote to go along with the painting. But because I have a weekly column to write, I pushed this out, with many misgivings, to my editor later than I’ve ever turned anything in. Bless his good heart, he did a great job of editing what I sent him. I’ve made 2 small last minute changes in the text I copy below.

In the column I mentioned one story of a pastor who was protected by a Muslim brother at a car park here in Kano. This morning, I read this very touching article in NEXT, about a Muslim man in Minna who risked his life to save several Christian families. He told Next reporters that he took inspiration from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (who had also in a charter of privileges given to St. Catherine’s monestary in Egypt said: “Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.”):

“I kept thinking of the prophet,” he said. “One day some men came to kill him and failed. As they fled, the prophet noticed that they were going in the direction of his more militant supporters, Saidi na Ali and such. So, he told them not to go that way, to avoid the route because they might get themselves killed. He helped them make good their escape. That is my example. That should be our example as Muslims.”

I would like to focus on these stories (less heard but very common) of Muslims protecting Christians and Christians protecting Muslims in time of crisis (especially the most recent crisis) in my column for this week. If anyone has such a personal story or knows someone who does, could you please email me by Tuesday night at carmenmccain @ yahoo.com with the story and phone numbers for verification purposes.

Here is this week’s column. To read the original as published, click on the link here to read it on the Weekly Trust website or on the photo below to read a hard copy. Otherwise, read on below the photo.

Threat of hate, hope of love

Saturday, 23 April 2011 00:00 Carmen McCain

Monday morning, 18 April, I heard the roar of a mob and gunshots on the street outside of the compound where I stay in Kano. I stayed at home, checking Facebook and Google news, making calls to friends to make sure they were OK.

As the rioting on the streets quieted to an uneasy calm, the fighting continued in Kaduna and elsewhere. Violence in the streets unleashed violent words on social networks in cyber space. Regional, political, and religious biases began to crack through the net, with friends and strangers calling each other barbarians and beasts, fools and hypocrites, questioning the commitment of the other to live in the state of Nigeria.

Burnt house of a leader in Kano, taken 19 April 2011 (c) Carmen McCain

Although I’ve lived through crises in Jos and I’ve read of previous crises in Kano, this was the first time I’ve experienced serious rioting in the North’s largest city. The current violence seems to have started out as political outrage against Northern leadership seen as betraying the interests of the people. Whether or not they had anything to do with the current elections, current and former leaders were targeted.  In Kano alone, the house of former speaker Ghali Umar Na’abba; the house of former ANPP presidential candidate Alhaji Bashir Tofa; the residence of the Galadima of Kano, and others were set afire. Even the emir of Kano was not exempt from the rage, as his Dorayi palace was attacked and burnt. Government offices were also burned, including, ironically, the Kano Pension Board office where records are kept. If it had remained at that, we could perhaps describe it, somewhat simplistically, as a revolution of the northern proletariat against a resented elite, but there was something uglier here than class rage. As sympathetic as I am for the leaders who lost property to the mobs, what I find the most alarming is how politically-motivated mayhem spilled over into violence against non-elite communities stereotyped as the “other” and assumed to be “at blame” for this disenfranchisement.

Broken glass in the window above Karami CD Palace, photo taken 18 April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

On Tuesday, I stopped by Gidan Dan Asabe on Zoo Road, which hosts a complex of studios, to check on friends. Kannywood actor Mustapha Musty and musician DJ Yaks described how a mob of young men had come searching for a well-known actor who had campaigned for PDP. Although he was not there, the mob threw stones at glass and ripped down signboards. This ‘scape-goating’, as Hausa filmmaker and Kannywood elder Aliyu Shehu Yakasai, explained to me is often less a question of ideology among the unemployed youth in the streets as an excuse to loot and steal. Political fervor was mixed with opportunism. The glass front of Karami CD Palace was knocked out and hundreds of thousands of naira worth of property looted, from VCDs to the ceiling fan to money stored in a cabinet. The internet café next door was not spared, as its glass was also smashed and some printers and computer accessories looted.

Baba Karami standing in front of Karami CD Palace with all the glass broken out of the shop front following the post-election violence in Kano 2011, photo taken 19 April 2011. Compare to photos taken in 2009, and note how all the goods have been stripped from front of shop, but business continues on. (c)Carmen McCain

Karami CD Palace 2009. (c) Carmen McCain

“Everybody has a right to vote for

Baba Karami in Karami CD Palace, 2009. (c) Carmen McCain

anyone they want,” Mustapha Musty told me. Although he thought it was best for actors not to campaign for politicians so as not to alienate fans, he told me his brother had recently been voted into the House of Assembly under the CPC. “But they didn’t care, yesterday, whether you were actually CPC or PDP,” he said. They just destroyed everything. Musician DJ Yaks described reasoning with one mob and hiding from another in a small generator room while trying to lock up an office. He told me that actors and musicians were easy targets because “people know our faces,” and that they were all assumed to behave and think the same way, when in fact many of them had the same political loyalties as their attackers.

ECWA Church Badawa burnt during the 2011 post-election crisis, Kano. Sent to me by Rev. Murtala Mati. Please do not repost without permission.

The CPC presidential candidate, Mummadu Buhari has recently pointed out a far more serious issue, “it is wrong for you to allow miscreants to infiltrate your ranks[....] the mindless destruction of worship places [...] is worse than rigging elections.” On 21 April, I spoke with Reverend Murtala Mati, a Kano indigene who has a weekly radio program “Ban Gaskiya Kirista” on Pyramid Radio. He had researched and put together a list of twenty-two churches burned in Kano during the rioting, seventeen in Nassarawa Local Government and six in Kumbotso Local Government. There were seventeen confirmed deaths of Christians, and fifty bodies yet to be identified. “What does this political problem have to do with Christians?” Reverend Mati asked me in an earlier meeting on 19 April. He speculated that Christians were scapegoated because of an assumption that “those who do not vote for CPC are Christians. They think PDP is a Christian party because the presidential aspirant was a Christian.”  Yet the assumption that Christians are a monolithic group voting along religious lines is not correct, he argued. “Many of our members voted CPC,” he told me, saying that Christians had the same concerns about living conditions and corruption as their Muslim neighbors. The spilling over of politics into religious identity has meant even more severe consequences for Kaduna, where Civil Rights Congress reports over two hundred from both faiths’ communities dead, and churches and mosques alike left smouldering.

As the news of violence in the North spread across the country, I saw the similar assumptions of monolithic identity applied to the entire north or to all Muslims by those who posted virulent, hate-filled rants on the internet. And while words do not literally kill, burn, or break, they fan a flame of hatred and misunderstanding that threatens to engulf Nigeria. The problem with the assumptions made by both the irrational mobs that destroy in the north and in rants of those who stereotype the entire north in conversation and media, is they make assumptions about entire communities, they group “those to blame” for their struggles as members of one whole career, one whole religion, one whole class, or one whole ethnicity, overlooking the complexity that lies within.

Hope lies in fragments, in the stories of human love and goodness that emerge out of ruins. Pastor Habila Sunday, who pastors a church in Kwanan Dangora village, Kano State, and had worn a church T-shirt to travel in on Monday, told me how at Unguwa Uku Motor Park he was threatened by a man with a knife. A Muslim man held back the man wielding the weapon, and told him “This man is one of us. He has nothing to do with politics. Before you kill him, you’ll have to kill me.” He then hid the pastor in a nearby shop and sat outside for four hours guarding the door. When a policeman they had called refused to enter the neighborhood, the man escorted the pastor on a winding path to the main road. The actions of this Good Samaritan, who risked his own life to protect a fellow Nigerian, are representative of many Muslims and Christians who protected both neighbors and strangers. These stories are less heard, but they provide hope that Nigerians are knit together more closely than the rhetoric and the terror committed by the most extreme of the society admit.

As I left DJ Yaks’ studio on Tuesday, he turned on a yet-to-be released song by Ibrahim Danko that floated out into the blackened streets and expresses wistfully what I think most of us long for at this time :

“I say, why, why, why, we dey hate each other? /I say, why, why, why, we dey fight each other? / I say, why, why, why, we dey kill each other […] One love, people together/ Nigeria…”

(c) Carmen McCain

Nigeria Votes for President Today: NN24, twitter, and the role played by new technologies

Kannywood actor Jameel Ibrahim shows off his 9 April 2011 National Assembly vote, while on location for the Aisha Halilu movie, Armala, Sunday 10 April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

(I wrote this post between 11:30am and 1:00pm on Saturday, 16 April 2011. My internet went out shortly before I planned to post illustrating the difficulties in celebrating too unreservedly the ability of ‘new technologies’ to bring about revolutionary change–fortunately it came back in about an hour….)

As, not being a Nigerian ‘citizen’, I am not allowed to vote today, I am hunkered down in my house, doing housework and planning to do some reading and writing later in the day. But for now, NN24, Nigeria’s challenge to CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera hosted on DSTV and one of my new favourite channels, is constantly on in the background, with analysis of the accreditation process so far and i-reports from people from around the country who are texting and sending photos and videos from their polling stations.  I love NN24. I love their energy and their youth focus, and their attention to the role new technology can play in encouraging the political process to be more transparent. For example, as with CNN, they have an application on their homepage, where ‘ordinary’ citizens (albeit those who can afford an internet-navigable phone or a laptop with a modem) can upload an i-report. They were the ones who organized the first debate between the presidential candidates, which I discussed in an earlier post. The only problem with NN24, as blogger Saratu Abiola noted in a powerfully written article posted to Nigerians Talk  ‘On Debating Nigeria’, regarding the NN24 hosted presidential debates,  is that it provides excellent content that is nevertheless limited to the viewership of those who can afford at least N2800 a month for the DSTV family subscription. Despite its idealistic goals, it limits itself, through its subscription status, to a wealthy elite. Yesterday, for example, there were three short ‘development’ films, ‘Vote Wisely’, an uplifting film where villagers drive away a corrupt politician trying to bribe them with rice for their votes, another ‘Too Young’ warning of the dangers of ‘unsafe pregnancies’ by showing a young girl attempting an abortion on herself, and another with a ‘northern couple’ (speaking English), where the husband refuses to let his wife, who has been in labour for two days be seen by a male doctor. The Ford-foundation sponsored Communicating for Change films shown as part of NN24′s ‘commitment to social responsibility’ were all targeted to ‘the masses’ (other than perhaps the one about the girl with the unwanted pregnancy),  yet who among the masses are going to be watching NN24? How effective will English be in the North? Will someone who can pay at least N2800 a month to access NN24 and DSTV really be tempted to sell their vote for a mudu of rice or refuse to bring their wife into the hospital until she has already been in labour for two days? These ‘public service announcements’ are interspersed with ads for exclusive hotels in Lagos and Abuja and tourist ads for ‘Incredible India’ (featuring white tourists), revealing the wealthy, upper class audience who will actually be seeing these development films. (Convicting myself as I write this, I switch over to the publicly accessible NTA for a few minutes, where they are interviewing women about the lack of female politicians and cases of double voting. The tone here is much less exuberant and encouraging than NN24. I become so irritated by the stereotypical way the men on a discussion panel are discussing women politicians that I switch back to NN24 after about 5 minutes). Much more potentially powerful, I argue, are Nollywood/Kannywood films, especially those done in local languages, which incorporate political content into popular storylines. And perhaps even more powerful than those, radio content and music…

The conflict I have about NN24 is similar to the conflict I feel about celebrating how new technologies are making politics more transparent. It is commonly repeated in the media that tweeting and facebook played a large role in the Egyptian revolution and the social media also seem to be a large part of a ‘youth consciousness’ here in Nigeria. Yet, facebook and twitter and blogs are still very much limited to an upwardly mobile urban population who have the means to buy internet-accessible phones or at least browse at an internet cafe. And, passion and commitment to transparency, still cannot completely stop those who are determined to cause havoc, as we see in the increasingly worrisome trend of political terrorism throughout the country. (Two bombs have gone off in Maiduguri, one at an INEC office, and another at a police station, the latest in a series of bombs to go off around the country, including one in Suleja and Kaduna last week.)

That said, I’m an optimistic person, and I do love to see how passionate those I know are about the elections. I love how last week as I visited the set of the Aisha Halilu movie Armala, Kannywood actors engaged in good natured political debates, and how actor Jameel Ibrahim showed me the photos he had taken with his phone of his vote. ‘This is my record,’ he told me. ‘This is my vote. I want everyone to know how I voted.’ I love how friends on twitter re-tweet instructions from INEC about the rules for accreditation and voting, and how others campaign for their chosen candidates on facebook. I love to see the i-reports sent to NN24 by young people from their phones and the democratizing role these new technologies seem to be playing in these elections–the tweet, for example, sent in by a voter just reported by NN24 on how voters pounced on thugs sent by a politician and sent them running (a seeming replay of the ‘Vote Wisely’ skit aired on NN24) .

And beyond the technology available to those of means, I love how the young man I saw interviewed on Al Jazeera last week, said he was staying around for the rest of the day to make sure his vote was counted. I love that the elections (so far) seem to be one of the ‘free-est and fairest’ Nigeria has ever had, the determination of those I know to get out and vote, the civic-mindedness of those standing outside in the sun all day to make sure their voices are heard.  Last week a young Kano-based musician Osama bin Music told me how in the last vote, he and his friends went to be accredited and then helped organize the crowds, trying to push through the small door of the school where the elections were taking place, into lines for men and women.

Osama bin Music (c) Carmen McCain

There may be young thugs hired by politicians, a trope that has become a stereotypical part of the Nigerian political landscape, but there are far more youth who want the voting process to work. They are there queuing in the sun. They want to make a difference. They want their votes to count. And it is in these youth that the hope for Nigeria lies.

The question, of course, is will the politicians who will be voted into power respect the faith the youth are placing in their votes? Or will they, despite the ‘free and fair’ vote, continue on with business as usual? And if that case, will new technologies make any difference in encouraging the youth to challenge the political culture in Nigeria in a more radical way or will it just comfort an elite that ‘their voices are being heard’?

Allah ya jikan Hausa film actress Maryam Umar Aliyu

FIM Magazine Cover featuring Maryam Umar Aliyu

Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihirraji’un.

I’m always reluctant to post news like this. It’s bad news, and I don’t like to bear it. The Hausa film star, Maryam Umar Aliyu, who retired from acting  after she married actor and musician Misbahu M. Ahmed in December 2009, died yesterday in Kano. This is one in a long string of Kannywood deaths in the last few years, including actress Hauwa Ali Dodo (Biba Problem) in January 2010,  Safiya Ahmed and director/actor Zilkiflu Mohammed in February 2010, actress Amina Garba (Mama Dumba) in November 2010, and just last month Baballe Costume, a film costumier.

I did not know Maryam well, but I had met her on enough occasions to be completely shocked when I first found out on facebook yesterday of her death. I first met her in 2006, and the film I first remember her in is Dan Zaki. The most recent film of hers that sticks out in my mind is Sai Na Dawo. The image of her that stays with me was sometime in 2008, she came into Golden Goose Studio studio wearing long dangly earrings and a beautiful outfit–a mixture of glamour and good natured sweetness. She sat on the floor with the rest of us, laughing and talking.

According to the Leadership article I will post below, she died yesterday from lingering complications of childbirth three months ago. She was still very young. Allah ya jikanta, ya rahama mata kuma allah ya sa Aljanna makoma ita. Allah ya ba mu hakuri.

If any readers would like to leave comments about memories they have of her or of their favourite films that Maryam featured in, I will consider including comments left by tonight (my deadline) in my column published on Saturday in the Weekly Trust.I will update this post as other news comes along, but to begin with I’ll post the short Leadership article by Abdulaziz A. Abdulaziz that came out today. To read on the Leadership website, click here:

Ex-Hausa Film Star, Maryam ‘Kumurci’, Dies

WEDNESDAY, 13 APRIL 2011 11:14 ABDULAZIZ ABDULAZIZ, KANO

A prominent ex-Hausa film actress, Maryam Umar Aliyu (aka Maryam Kumurci), has died. The actress died yesterday afternoon in Kano after a protected illness.Until her death, She was the wife of renown playback singer, Musbahu M Ahmed.

LEADERSHIP also gathered that she died at a private hospital in Kano where she had been battling with complications arising from childbirth. She was said to have delivered of a stillborn baby three months ago.

Burial rites for the deceased was conducted at her family’s residence located at Gwammaja quarters. Just as she was later  buried according to Islamic rites at Kofar Mazugal cemetery.

The late Maryam began her filmmaking career in early 2000s and rose to stardom by 2005. She featured in several Hausa home videos including Khudsiyya and Jani.

She later got married to an actor, Sha’aibu Lawal (alias Kumurci), following the death of his bride, Balaraba Mohammed. Maryam’s relationship with the actor earned her the same sobriquet  as him; kumurci.

UPDATE 16 April 2011

Here is my column for the week, in tribute to Maryam Umar Aliyu. It can be read on the Weekly Trust site, here or in its original format as published in the Weekly Trust by clicking on the photo below:

Honouring Kannywood: In Memory of Maryam Umar Aliyu

Saturday, 16 April 2011 00:00 Carmen McCain.

Kannywood received yet another blow this week when former actress Maryam Umar Aliyu died, Tuesday, April 12, after a lingering illness following a still-birth. The stylish, light-skinned actress, who was of Nigerien origin but grew up in Katsina, began acting in the early 2000s, appearing in dozens of films including Labarin ZuciyaGiwar Mata, Dan Zaki, Makauniyar Yarinya, Khudsiyya, Jani, and Sai na Dawo, among many others. She also produced one film Majiya. When a brief marriage to actor Shu’aibu Kumurci ended, she returned to acting, but retired again in December 2009 to marry actor and singer Misbahu M. Ahmad. Maryam’s death comes after a long string of losses to the Hausa film industry over the past year and a half: actresses Hauwa Ali Dodo, Safiya Ahmed, and Amina Garba, Director and actor Zilkiflu Mohammad, and producer Hamza Muhammad Danzaki all died in 2010. Last month, a costumier called Baballe Costume also died.

A fan, Khadijah Sulaiman, wrote on Facebook, that she “had never seen a film” of Maryam’s that “wasn’t good.” She most remembered her for the 2006 film Dan Zaki. Likewise, my first memory of seeing Maryam Umar Aliyu was in the Sani Danja film, Dan Zaki, with its echoes of oral literature, where she plays the role of a woman so jealous that she has a sorcerer transform the man she loves into a bird and make his wife go mad. The film had just come out when I arrived in Kano to begin my research. Maryam came to the house where I was staying to visit my hostess, and I remember thinking her quite the opposite of the character she had played in the film. She was sweet and kind and laughed a lot. I remember how, later, after my return to Kano in 2008, she came into Golden Goose Studio one day, a mixture of glamour and cheerfulness, with her dangly earrings, fashionable dress and unforgettable smile. She sat on the floor of the studio, ate kosai and fried potatoes, and chatted with everyone there.

Her laughter, patience, and kindness are what other people in the industry I spoke to remember of her as well. Aminu Sheriff (Momoh) wrote on my blog that “She was very kind and jovial person[…] May her soul rest in peace, amin.” Over the phone (any mistakes in translation from Hausa to English are mine) actress Fati Bararoji told me that Maryam was a very patient and kind person, who loved the people around her. She didn’t fight with anyone, Fati said. She’d put up with a lot. When she accepted a role in a film, she wouldn’t haggle over money but would just take what she was given. Fati remembered, in particular, Maryam’s patience and cheerfulness over a seven-day shoot in Abuja which she had been on with her, shortly before Maryam’s marriage in 2009.

Sakna Gadaz Abdullahi repeated much of what Fati had told me. “Her death is a big loss to the industry and to her family.  The day I heard of her death, I couldn’t do anything else. I was so shocked. Maryam had become like my sister. Everyone who knew her in the industry knew that she was a good and loyal friend. She wasn’t materialistic.”

Sadiyya Mohammad (Gyale) wrote me that Maryam was very nice, patient and quiet. “I really loved Maryam.” Zainab Idris simply said that she had always gotten along well with Maryam. “Her death has really affected us. But we know that God loves her even more than us, and we too are on the road to the Hereafter whether today or any other time.”

Maryam’s death comes at a time when I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between the Hausa film industry, the wider Nollywood industry, and the role of film in Africa as a whole. In 1998, the Malian filmmaker Abdurrahmane Sissako made a film, La Vie Sur Terre/Life on Earth, which portrays a village where the news of the world comes in through international radio broadcasts, but where no information can escape. The villagers know about the world, yet the world does not know about them. The village post office can receive telephone calls but cannot call out.

Although the Hausa-speaking world is certainly no village and has access to phones, internet, radio, and other media (including a gigantic film industry which could be its gateway to the world), there is a metaphoric parallel here. Kannywood knows about Hollywood, Bollywood, and the larger Nigerian film industry of Nollywood, but they know very little about Kannywood.  Despite Maryam Umar Aliyu’s prolific acting career, when I went online to try to find photos of her to put on my blog, I didn’t find more than three or four. It always surprises me how little you find online about Kannywood stars, whose faces, blazoned on stickers, are plastered on thousands of buses, motorcycles, and taxis all over Northern Nigeria, Niger, and surrounding countries.

Hausa is spoken by over fifty million people in Africa. The Hausa film industry is, according to the most recent National Film and Video Censor’s Board statistics, creeping to nearly thirty percent of the Nigerian film industry. Beyond death, the figures and faces of these actors and actresses will keep running and clapping, speaking and laughing, singing and dancing through our lives for as long as the plastic of the VCDs last and the television channels continue to broadcast them into our homes. They are known by millions yet strangely unknown beyond a barrier of language and class, loved by those who buy stickers and films and yet often disrespected by those with the power to write about them on an international stage.

The imbalances in what the world knows about Hausa film and society have their roots in colonialism, yes, but also tend to be continued by the attitudes of an elite who keep their television stations tuned to CNN and BBC. Despite the hundreds of singing and dancing sequences uploaded to YouTube (rarely labeled with names of composer or performer), the occasional Facebook fan page, the old FIM Magazine pages or the commendable Kannywood online fan community, the lack of information about the Hausa film industry online is a sign that it is not yet appreciated by a northern elite who have the most access to the internet. And a lack of financial and moral support from an elite means it is much more difficult for the industry to break into the international film arena, as Yoruba films are beginning to do. I often hear educated members of a Northern Nigerian elite talking about how embarrassed they are by Hausa films, and yet it was these very Hausa films (and also the novels) that attracted me to learn Hausa. I am an American here in Kano because of film. I am here because I saw Ahmed S. Nuhu and Hauwa Ali Dodo and Zilkiflu Mohammed and Maryam Umar Aliyu in stories that captivated me and made me want to let the world know about them.

I am sad that I wrote of Maryam only after she died. I should have written about her while she was alive. Every time I write a tribute to an entertainer or artist gone before their time, I feel this way. Why didn’t I write more? Why don’t we all write more, in Hausa first and then English, about the young talents who surround us, filling our radios with songs, our television screens with dramas, and our bookshelves with novels, not imported but homegrown? Let’s honour Maryam by honouring, respecting and supporting her colleagues, those hard working, cheerful, and kind members of the Hausa film industry who, insha Allah, will live and work and grow as artists for years to come. Only when we respect our entertainers, will they be able to build an industry that will make us proud.

UPDATE 25 April 2011:

Other memories of Maryam Umar Aliyu sent to me:

From Auwal Danlarabawa

ina mai mika ta’aziyya ta ga rasuwar maryam umar Allah ya gafarta mata ameen, akwai wani jarumta da tayi a lokacin da muke aikin film din kanfani a lokacin da doki ya gudu da ita amma bata ji tsoro ba ta zauna daram har diokin ya kare gudunsa ya tsaya wanda ba kowacce jaruma ce zatayi hakan ba, shine babban abinda na ke tunawa a mu’amalarmu da maryam Allah ya gafarta mata mu kuma in tamau tazo Allah yasa mu cika da imani

To read other tributes I’ve written for Hausa actors and filmmakers gone before their time, see my posts on

Actress Hauwa Ali Dodo, who died 1 January 2010,

Director Zilkiflu Muhammed (Zik), who died 18 February 2010,

Actress Safiya Ahmed, who died on 26 February 2010,

Actress Amina Garba, who died on 21 November 2010,

Comedian and director Lawal Kaura, who died on 13 December 2011,

Director Muhammadu Balarabe Sango, who died on 1 December 2012

My translated excerpt of Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino’s novel Kaico! published in Sentinel Nigeria

The beat-up cover of my working copy of Kaico! (complete with little kid pencil scribbles)

I’m behind on this blog, and there is much more to post, including my trip to Lagos and Yenegoa, for a “Reading Nollywood” conference and the AMAA awards. (For an excellent post on AMAA, see my friend Bic Leu’s blog, which uses a lot of the photos I took while there.) But, in the meantime, here is a link to an excerpt of my translation-in-progress of Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino’s novel Kaico! that was published in the March 2011, Issue 5 of Sentinel Nigeria Online.

The excerpt comes from the first chapter of the novel, which I have completed three (rough) chapters of so far. In addition to needing to finish translating the entire novel, the translation of the three chapters I have completed still need a lot of polishing and editing. But I do appreciate Sentinel Editor, Richard Ali being so committed to start featuring translations of African-language works that he urged me to send this in as is.

Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino is the bestselling author of In Da So Da Kauna, a Hausa language novel that sold over 100,000 copies. Winner of the 2009 Engineer Mohammad Bashir Karaye Prize in Hausa Literature for his play Malam Zalimu, he is also a founding member of the Hausa film industry, and has produced or directed sixteen films in Hausa, including his most recent Sandar Kiwo, which has been shown internationally.

Here is an excerpt from the excerpt:

On Monday, the 23rd day of Ramadan, after we broke fast, my good friend Kabiru visited our house. I saw him as he came into the room, and I quickly got up and grabbed his hand.
“Kai, look who we have here in town today. Kabiru, ashe, are you around? Long time no see!” I said, holding on to his hand.
As we sat down, Kabiru said, “I traveled for a week, that’s why you haven’t seen me. You know that if I hadn’t traveled, it would have been hard to go for seven days without seeing you.”
“I was thinking maybe the fasting was keeping you from going anywhere,” I answered. “You know how the fasting wears you out when the sun is beating down.”
“Well, the sun may be hot, but there’s no sun at night. I was told that you came to my house looking for me while I was gone. Have you forgotten?”
“Oh, I know. I just asked to see what you would say.” We both smiled.
Kabiru looked at me. “Oho, so you want to catch me out, do you?”
“Ai, well, that’s why you should marry relatives. They know you. You know them. If you take the bait, it’s not my fault,” I laughed.
“Ok, well, jokes aside. I have something important I want to talk to you about.”
“I’m listening. What’s up?” I tilted my head to one side to listen.

***

Unfortunately, the English translation published by Sentinel extends beyond the Hausa that was also given, and I have currently misplaced my copy of the book, but as soon as I find it, I will put up the Hausa portion of this excerpt for a side-by-side comparison. To read more, see the Sentinel site.

Hausa novelist Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino and (translator) Carmen McCain in his office, August 2005.