#Politicalironies : Campaigning in a time of Boko Haram

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 10.16.32 PMI’m not sure this photo needs any captioning. A screenshot I took featuring an article and a sidebar ad on 16 January 2015. A lot of  juxtapositions these days.

Here is a link to my blogpost with similar ironic political juxtapositions during the 2011 Nigerian elections.

My memories of Dan Ibro in Weekly Trust today

Ibro Dan Siyasa

I remember in the middle of the 2008 Jos crisis laughing alongside an audience of Christian refugees at Ibro Dan Siyasa

Last week I wrote up some of my memories of one of Kannywood’s biggest stars Rabilu Musa, more often known by his comedic alter-ego Dan Ibro. Musa passed away last week on 10 December 2014, due to complications related to kidney disease.  He had apparently struggled with the illness for some time. When he was jailed by the mobile court then attached to the Kano State Censorship Board (a kangaroo court he later mocked in Kotun Ibro), he spent most of his jail term in the hospital. (When Kwankwaso became governor in 2011, Rabilu Musa was also given a seat on the Kano State Censorship Board.)

"An Kwantar da Ibro Asabiti" article published in Leadership Hausa, 17-23 October 2008

“An Kwantar da Ibro Asabiti” article published in Leadership Hausa, 17-23 October 2008

This week, my editor (who is still being kind to me despite my being MIA from my column) at Weekly Trust asked me if I would grant an interview about my memories of Dan Ibro, along the lines of the blog post. Once some time has passed, I’ll archive the whole interview on my blog, but for now you can read the interview on the Trust site here: “My Memories of Dan Ibro”

Ibro Dan Siyasa

Ibro Dan Siyasa

I will try to figure out how to upload the interview I did with him in April 2009, once I have access to good internet.

In the meantime, here are a few other Trust articles and tributes to the late comedian:

“Father of Late Comedy Star Dan Ibro Speaks… ‘Life will never be the same without Dan Ibro” by Ibrahim Musa Giginyu

“Tribute to an Unrivalled Arewa Comedy Icon” by Umar Rayyan

“Dan Ibro: Exit of Kannywood’s Comedy icon” by Ibrahim Musa Giginyu

“Popular Hausa Comedian Ibro Dies” by Ibrahim Musa Giginyu

Other articles include

Noorer’s “Social Media Reactions to Rabilu Musa Ibro’s Death” on Kannywoodscene

Umar IBN’s obituary  “Cikakken Tahirin Marigayi Rabilu Musa Dan Ibro” on Kannywood Exclusive.

Mohammad Lere’s article “Comedian ‘Dan Ibro’ Buried in Kano” in Premium Times

Awwal Ahmad Janyau’s “Rabilu Musa Dan Ibro Ya Rasu” in RFI

“Dan wasan Hausa, Rabilu Dan Ibro Ya Rasu” BBC

Finally, in an interview with FIM Magazine in March 2008, Rabilu Musa told them, “In ka ji an ce an daina yi da Ibro, to sai dai in Ibro ya mutu”/”If you hear that Ibro is no longer performing, it’s because Ibro is dead.”

Rest in peace, Rabilu Musa. May Ibro live on. Allah ya jikansa. Allah ya sa shi huta. Allah ya ba mu hakuri.

In ka ji an daina yi da Ibro, to sai dai in Ibro ya mutu" - Rabilu Musa

“If you hear that Ibro is no longer performing, it’s because Ibro is dead.” -Rabilu Musa, March 2008, Rest in peace, Ibro.

Remembering ‘Dan Ibro (tare da baturiyarsa) (Allah ya jikan ‘Dan Ibro)

This morning, I yielded to the temptation to go onto Facebook before starting my work.  I found waiting for me a private message from a friend telling me that Rabilu Musa aka ‘Dan Ibro, the most famous comedian and perhaps the most famous actor in the Hausa film industry, had just passed away.(BBC, Premium Times, RFI). He was only in his forties. Inna Lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un.

Dan Ibro praying (courtesy of Rabilu Musa DAN Ibro Facebook page)

It is a gutting loss to the industry and to millions of people all over northern Nigeria, who laughed at Ibro’s antics even as the bombs were exploding around them.

An explanation:

I’ve been gone from this blog since June, since even before then, really, as I tried to reduce distractions to a bare minimum while I pushed out the PhD. I kept up with the column at Weekly Trust until August. A week before my revisions were due, I desperately asked my editor for a month break, which he graciously granted me. I finished the PhD and then just kind of collapsed. I had been taking two days and an all nighter every week trying to write my weekly column. I had written throughout the last four years of my PhD programme, even through the defense. But with the kidnap of the Chibok girls and ever more atrocities coming out of the northeast, sometimes venturing further West, I felt like I couldn’t write about anything else. How can you write about novels and movies and walks in pretty American parks when ethnic cleansing is going on—when perhaps some of your readers have been killed in the violence? My one-month break turned into many months. I got busy applying for academic jobs and going to conferences and travelling back and forth to Nigeria. I pushed away thoughts of the column. I couldn’t handle the thought of having one more deadline every week or of having to write anything else while people were being murdered and bombs were going off.

Then ‘Dan Ibro died.

And I realized he made people laugh in the midst of all of these horrors (In October there was even a Ibro Likitan Ebola poster floating around on Twitter), and that perhaps it is this laughter, these stories, these songs, these dreams of ordinary people in ordinary and extraordinary times, that are what help us

Ibro Ebola Doctor (courtesy of Kannywood Exclusive TL: https://twitter.com/kannywoodex/status/504397310957457408 )

survive. We shouldn’t allow Boko Haram or any other threat to take laughter and story and song away from us. During the Jos crisis of 2008, dozens of people sought refuge in our house. One night, I brought out my vcd of Ibro Dan Siyasa [Ibro Politician], and everyone, all crammed into our parlour, sat there laughing. Christians in Jos laughing at the Muslim Ibro’s comedy, in the midst of a religious/ethnic/political crisis. I thought, then, that there is a bridge here, this Kannywood, this comedy, there’s something here that goes beyond the bitter statements I’d heard from Christian refugees throughout the crisis. The same people who had cursed “the Hausa” and cursed “the Muslims” were laughing at ‘Dan Ibro. His comedy was bigger than fear and hatred and politics.

So here are my own memories of Ibro.

Like any fan, I have watched dozens of his films—playing in the background on Africa Magic Hausa as I would write in my room or in the little kiosk where I bought yoghurt and bread when I lived in Kano. I’d watch short comedy sketches excerpted from his longer films that musicians and filmmakers would show me on their phones in studios. Sometimes I’d peek over the shoulders of strangers in taxis giggling at an Ibro sketch on their phone.

When a director and producer I did not know approached me on Zoo Road with the idea for Ibro Ya Auri Baturiya, I laughed and agreed without too much further thought. I liked the idea. I said I would do it, if I could get an interview with Ibro. The producer agreed.

One of the vcd covers for Ibro Ya Auri Baturiya (more coming once I can find my hard copies in the various boxes where they are packed)

One of the vcd covers for Ibro Ya Auri Baturiya (more coming once I can find my hard copies in the various boxes where they are packed)

Ibro Ya Auri Baturiya was made in early 2009, in the midst of the Kano State Censorship crisis. Because of the crisis, we had to leave Kano to shoot the film. We met up with Rabilu Musa on the outskirts of Kano, and I rode in the back seat of his car as he drove towards Jigawa State. He was dressed in a normal white kaftan, and without the bright signature costume, the tall red cap or the comedian’s grin, he looked like an ordinary person—not one of Nigeria’s biggest stars. He was very quiet and did not say much as we drove. Even with all of my exposure to Kannywood, I remain bashful in the presence of fame. I hoped for an interview but didn’t quite know how to ask him. We stopped once on the side of the road, perhaps to buy snacks, and people passed without recognizing him until some of the children did a double take and then started chanting “Ibro, Ibro.”

We arrived at a village a little bit outside of Dutse in Jigawa, and we ate lunch before starting to shoot. I was still too shy to talk to him, as you can see from the below photo of me grinning like an idiot while Ibro eats in the background. But the director fulfilled his part of the bargain, and we had a brief 6-7 minute interview. I tried to ask him about his ordeal the year before, at the hands of the Kano State Censorship Board. He didn’t want to talk about it. I got what I could. (I’ve transcribed the Hausa, though I haven’t yet translated it, and will post it later on this blog).

Eating on set of Ibro Ya Auri Baturiya. (Ibro in white). (Me, grinning like idiot)

Eating on set of Ibro Ya Auri Baturiya. (Ibro in white). (Me, grinning like idiot)

Then it was time to act. I was led to a small, borrowed room in someone’s compound and told to change into my “Western dress”. About a minute later, before I had a chance to smooth down my hair still flattened from my headtie, I was rushed out to do the first scene where I drag (my own) suitcase into the village with Ibro, asking him why we aren’t going to Abuja as he promised me. There was no script. At least none that I was given. The director gave us a minute of instruction (I was to speak in English at first and later in broken Hausa), and we were off. Ibro is a brilliant comedian and knew exactly what to do. I just tried to keep up.

That day, Ibro had somewhere else to be. I completed my scenes with him, a few more were cut, perhaps, and he rushed off to his next film. We continued with Baba Ari, ‘Dan Auta, and the others at a more leisurely pace.

On set of Ibro Ya Auri Baturiya.  Left to right. Director Muhammad Y. Muhammad, Baba Ari, me, Dan Auta, Producer Lawal D. Funtua.

On set of Ibro Ya Auri Baturiya.
Left to right. Director Muhammad Y. Muhammad, Baba Ari, me, Dan Auta, Producer Lawal D. Funtua.

After production, I was embarrassed. I felt I had acted terribly. I felt like if produced differently it could have, perhaps, been funnier. I never mentioned the film on this blog and rarely elsewhere, because I didn’t want people to see me in it.

But on the streets, people would call out “matan Ibro,” “matan Ibro.” People would jokingly ask me how my husband Ibro was. And so it was that “matan Ibro” became part of my public persona, even though I was still too shy to talk to him.

The original vcd cover for Ibro Ya Auri Baturiya.

The original vcd cover for Ibro Ya Auri Baturiya.

Eventually, I was able to overcome my embarrassment enough to watch parts 1 through 3 of the Ibro Ya Auri Baturiya and to look at it with enough distance to include an analysis of it in my PhD dissertation. I realized that it didn’t matter how I acted. It wasn’t about me. The baturiya was just a symbol to be played with and mocked—some of the funniest scenes were discussions of the baturiya, where I did not appear but which were made possible by my token appearance elsewhere: the baturiyar kwantainer, Ibro could not pass off to his friend once I became a nuisance because he claimed he had gotten me from a container, which could have come from Togo or Benin, rather than America; the baturiya whom Ibro really “made suffer” as people on the street would laugh to me.

Ibro Ya Auri Baturiya was where I most connected with Rabilu Musa, but he had many more brilliant films. They weren’t usually polished, but they were usually hilarious and filled with sometimes biting political humour. The character of Ibro took on a life of his own. His voice often imitated by singers, including Sadi Sidi Sharifai, so that the character Ibro became disembodied from the actor himself. I mention him over 40 different times in my PhD thesis, and do an extended analysis of his film Kotun Ibro, a sly dig at the mobile court which persecuted so many filmmakers during the censorship crisis.

Ibro's film Kotun Ibro poked fun at the mobile court that had arrested him.

Ibro’s film Kotun Ibro poked fun at the mobile court that had arrested him.

Dan Ibro was an institution. He has become an era.

He will not act in any new films, but he will stay with us in a thousand different comedies. I heard his voice singing on the radio today, as a broadcaster mourned him. He brawls and weeps and shouts and complains and dances on a million different screens. We will keep laughing, even when, perhaps, we should be crying.

Allah ya jikansa, Allah ya sa shi huta. Yaba mu hakurin wannan babban rashi.


As I wrote this today, I saw the news of another bomb in Kano at the Kwari cloth market. Allah ya kiyaye mu. What a horrible day Kano has had.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming to contemplate how many people from the Hausa film industry have died in the past few years. Here are my tributes to a few of them.

Actress Hauwa Ali Dodo (Biba Problem), who died 1 January 2009,

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,

Actress Maryam Umar Aliyu, who died on 12 April 2011,

Director Muhammadu Balarabe Sango, who died on 1 December 2012

Introducing Dr. Carmen McCain

Dr. Carmen McCain (c) my brilliant brother Dan McCain

I have not posted on this blog since January. I think that is the longest I have ever neglected it. But it was for a good cause. It enabled me to hole up in Madison, Wisconsin, to focus and finish writing my PhD dissertation on Hausa literature and film, which I defended about a month ago. I am hoping to finish my revisions in a week or so, submit to the university, and move on to the next thing. I am looking forward to what life brings. Hopefully that will mean resuming more regular blogging. Thank you to all of you, who have supported me and encouraged me during this long, grueling, depressing, yet also sometimes exhilarating process. I wrote more detailed thanks in my column last month and still more in the acknowledgements page of my dissertation itself. I am placing a hold on proquest for two years, so as to better my chances of getting a book contract, but I would be happy to email it to anyone interested, once I have the final draft submitted to the university.

I will share more thoughts and photos as I have time. This may also be the last blog post I compose on my nearly 6 year old boxy red Dell, named Rudi. He has lived a good life but is now slowly dying. His sleek replacement is sitting in the next room  waiting for a data transfer… and a name.

My love to everyone.

-Dr. McCain  (probably the only time I will ever sign off that way on this blog, but it’s fun to celebrate)

Writing Companions

“La Danse” (second version, 1909-1910) by Henri Matisse, Photo Credit: Wikipedia

When I was a teenager and I still had an already old fashioned record player, one of my favourite albums from my parents record collection was a record of Ravel’s “Bolero.” The cover was the second version of Matisse’s painting “La Danse.” (I would love to take credit for my great knowledge of art, but I actually found it by first googling “Ravel’s Bolero record” and then “red men dancing impressionist.” It’s amazing what google can do.) The painting and the music melded, and I remember lying on my bed, eyes closed, floating on the sinuous threads of the ballet, as the shiny black record undulated under the needle. The music starts out softly with a single flute and snare drum and then a clarinet, so softly (pianissimo I whisper) you can hardly hear it, and as each instrument takes up the Bolero theme, the orchestra grows louder and more rowdy until it finally ends with a tumbling crash.  

I would play it as I daydreamed and as I read and as I wrote little stories that I never finished. It is sensual music that pulls at your body so that you have to follow its rhythms, follow Matisse’s red dancers even if you are lying down.

I think this is the same record. Photo courtesy of Positive Feedback Online, Issue 14.


Sensual. It is a word that comes to me every time I hear Ravel, as does my old Jos room, with its fluttering blue curtains, and yellow record player on the floor, the shimmer of the large flat disc as it spun. A dizzying array of senses: circling vinyl, circling red nudes, circling bolero theme, whirl of instruments.

I have recently discovered Spotify (unfortunately not available in Nigeria), with its endless fields of free music. I write best when I am listening to rhythmic, wordless music, so Ravel’s Bolero is at the top of my “writing music” playlist, followed by a whole lot of Bach. I sway. I type. The orchestra circles and crescendos, trumpets blasting and drums marching.  I still get chills.

Outside the windows tonight, there is a mist that shines red in the security lights. The polar vortex with its arctic temperatures has given way to the more gentle Atlanta winter, and the rain comes and goes, tapping against the wood walls. The mist and the rain make me feel safe, provide a companionable solitude. I try to write but I think more of process than content, of memories rather than analysis, round and round with the clarinet.

I am alone tonight, but for two little writing companions, insects that look like knight’s shields, with a delicate inlay of filigreed gold, painted with tiny spots of red and brown. They explore my charge cords and my wallet and patter along the top of my screen with stalk legs, extending their patterned wings out from under their shields to whir away when I startle them. I wonder where they come from, these little beings, in all this cold. I think–I should write about these creatures, but I keep pushing the urge away–attempting to work on a chapter about censorship–until the music and the rain and the living things overcome me and I run through the cold corridors of the house to find my camera and wish as I hold my kit lens close, “Oh, if only I had a macro.”

(c) CM

(c) CM

(c) CM

(c) CM

Escape (c) CM

The Polar Vortex welcomes America into the Arctic Circle

Guess what this image is.

What is this?

What is this?

I arrived in America just in time to enjoy the coldest winter in almost half a century in some places (Reuters says Atlanta is having the coldest weather it has had for 44 years). Even in Florida, one of America’s sunniest southernmost states, as I left my sister’s house yesterday, her poor hibiscus bushes looked shriveled and sad, flowers translucent with cold, which at some points of the night got down to the teens Fahrenheit (around -7 Celsius). Still in Florida, we passed a fountain that had frozen over while the water was running, looking like something out of the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe film, rather than Florida. Arriving in the Atlanta area where my grandmother lives , we were welcomed with the news that the pipes were frozen. Fortunately, there was still a trickle of water coming out in the kitchen sink and the front bathroom, but the hot water heaters were not working, and the back bathroom was completely frozen up.

We put our bucket bath skills to work, my dad and I going outside to draw water in a small bucket from a creek that runs close by and heating water for dishes on the stove. However, we realized how helpless most of us living in America when faced with power or water outages as compared to Nigerians. First, we just aren’t used to such things and don’t have battery back-up systems or generators for power, or even proper-sized buckets or cisterns for collecting and storing water. Moral of the story being, great infrastructure is great, but it does sometimes leave people a little too comfortable, unable to cope in emergencies. Second, the weather is just so much harsher–North America is not a terribly friendly continent to live on without having a solid house and heat–, so that when such shortages happen, people suffer more in the short term, although the expectation is generally that things will soon be better. I imagine futuristic scenarios where America’s economy continues to spiral downwards into another Great Depression, combined with climate change, and people are left without electricity and water again for long periods of time. In such a scenario, poor people in Africa are much better off than poor people in northern countries, as this exciting new Kenyan science fiction series, Usoni, imagines. (Africa is the only place in the world where the sun still shines, prompting reverse immigration southward). And speaking of science fiction, check out these photos from Chicago!

Fortunately, the power stayed on in my grandmother’s house, though she said she had heard on the radio that it went off in some parts of Atlanta and there have been outages across the continent. According to The Independent, a power outage in Newfoundland Canada “left 90,000 homes without electricity” on Sunday. Imagine being without electricity or heat in temperatures of 20 below… And people have died, especially the homeless. CBC reports that at least 21 people have reportedly died during this freeze.

The most dramatic thing that happened in my grandmother’s house was the toilet freezing and a little flood when the pipes warmed up this afternoon. But fortunately my uncle is a brilliant plumber, so the problem has been solved for now.

Ice in the toilet-for web

ice in the toilet.

When I posted the status update “ice in the toilet” earlier on Facebook, my friend Richard Ali thought I was making some sort of existential statement about America. While it does make make a startlingly original poetic metaphor, this time the ice was literal. As Richard put it a “double entendre” from Nature.

In the meantime, I am hoping that the temperatures warm up before I head to Madison, WI, next week. Please help  me pray…. 

Transitions: Life changes and this blog’s 2013 in review

Happy New Year 2014

A lot has changed in my life since my last post, over a month ago. When I posted, I had just had a great writing day. I was about to submit a chapter. I was “raring to go” on the next chapter. I could see in my mind, the rest of the dissertation unfolding, almost effortlessly.  I felt like it was almost already written. It was a blessing, that day of writing.

The day before my grandmother in the American state of Louisiana had an accident. She ran off the road into a tree. We heard that she was awake when she was admitted into the hospital. I don’t think I realized how serious it was. I’m glad I got a lot of work done that day because by Friday, I was packing up my little house where I had written much of my dissertation in order to fly back to the U.S. for a funeral that we knew would be soon. Initially, we had reserved tickets on Saturday, which we held off on buying because we heard she was getting better. She passed away on Monday, and my parents and I flew to Lagos the next day (almost late because I was still trying to pack and organize the materials I was leaving behind. I am very grateful to a few kind friends who came over to help me and who are still helping me scan a box of magazines and other materials I couldn’t travel with). From Lagos, we flew overnight to Atlanta, and by Wednesday morning Eastern Time, we were in a rental car driving to Louisiana for the funeral. Perhaps I will write another post on the funeral and a longer post on my remarkable grandmother. But for now, here are two of the columns I wrote during that time: “A Death at Christmas-time,” and “Home for Christmas?” (and a third rather random piece from last week as America begins to eat my brain cells, “When the lights go out in America and other thoughts on the last day of 2013” .)

I have spent a few weeks with my sister in Florida, trying to continue writing in her quiet, peaceful house. It has been surprisingly cold here in one of America’s southern-most states, but nothing to complain about these days. I am nearly in tears every time I hear dramatic sub-zero weather forecasts further north and face thoughts of returning to scenes like this (Photos I took in Madison, WI in the winter of 2007).

hard beauty

hard beauty. Flowers of metal and ice. (c) CM


Fangs of ice (c) CM


Welcome to Wisconsin. Have a seat. Make yourself at home. (c) CM


And yet there is life, shed of its green, waiting for the earth to tilt and the sun draw near once again. (c) CM


And winter too has its beauty. (c) CM


It’s hard to be bitter looking at these photos again. These crystal patterns sculpted by Winter herself (c) CM


Her gift to those who stay inside the glass, to those who do not defy her. (c) CM

Yes, I posted too many frost pictures. Let me know which one you like the best.

I think of the homeless at times like this. And I hope that churches and mosques and synagogues and other community centres are opening their arms. I read from Facebook friends in Madison that the Salvation Army and public libraries are opening, and that some organizations are paying for hotel rooms.

I wonder how homelessness can be possible, how the homeless survive winter after winter in these deadly days in this part of the planet that is habitable only by those who can afford four walls and heat?

In the meantime, WordPress has cheered me up with their neat little end of the year report. I have been a little obsessed with SEO [the acronym for site optimization, though I can’t remember what the “E” stands for (UPDATE: Actually, as my friend Nwunye reminded me, its “Search Engine Optmization”… duh)] this year when my site hits dramatically and unexplainably decreased in November by around 70%, but as of December they have sprung back up to normal. That makes me happy. Here is the report WordPress sent me for 2013. Even with my November dip, 2013 still seems to have outranked 2012 by about 10,000 hits:


Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 190,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 8 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.