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AustinAfrica via its AustinAfrica Review hopes to make useful (and interesting) contributions to the Arts interest of the community. While it cannot ‘compete’ with the truly great Austin Chronicle or the prodigious Austin Monthly, AA believes it can augment the awareness of African music, as connected with African communities and
culture both far and near.Additionally, it anticipates providing regular information on opportunities to network with Texas visual art collections whether permanent or temporary, in particular to comment on those near at hand. As another aspect of visual culture, AustinAfricaReview also wants to introduce African movies which are easy to access and provide insights into African cultures and communities, whether in the past or present, rural or urban. All of the above is planned to be announced and chronicled via calendar of performances and/or events related to Africa and Africans in Austin.
As the AustinAfricaReview addresses music, it is aware of the tremendous contribution of African American culture to modern American music and knowing its limitations recognizes that it cannot contribute as much as others to this true gold brought originally from Africa; which was solace, friend, consoler, to those that endured the centuries of slavery, and which made much of modern music possible.However, AustinAfricaReview can contribute,and keeping to its strengths will primarily focus on African music, which is so integral to the culture and community of Africans now and in the past that it can hardly be separated out from the cultural gestalt.
Traditional African Music
Many historians of African music stress the difficulty in isolating music from the cultural context which is seen as a whole unbroken world. The following comment from the
African Volume of the Garland Encyclopedia of Music, an academic reference, is explanatory “
Honest observers are hard pressed to find single indigenous group in Africa that has a term congruent to the usual western notion of “music.” There are terms for more specific acts like singing, playing instruments, and more broadly performing (dance, games, music); but the isolation of musical sound from other arts proves a western abstraction, of which we should be aware when we approach the study of performance in Africa. (p.7)
If AA were to make a comment, give an opinion t about what African music is to its culture, it notes that African literature is oral and passed solicitously from generation to generations by its griots. African music is Africa’s architecture and has embodied in its rhythms the sureness of form of other sacred houses as churches and mosques, as well as the arabesques and foreshortenings of their visual depictions. It is not known by the ear only but by the whole body; which is why its music seems not to be oriented to distant meditations or reflections. In African masquerades such as those performed in Afikpo in Igboland (near my family’s village)bring all of the elements of art together (music, the carving and painting that go into mask making, and dance) in a communal celebration in which the audience are also the actors. AA makes these comments only as applied to traditional African music in ‘traditional times’.’ Traditional times’ is defined in this context as when the fullness of the tradition is reenacted as it has been done over the generations.
There is much to be said of the impact of African and African American music on modern popular music but that is to be discussed another time and perhaps as presented by an external expert.
Modern African Music in Africa and Texas
Following Western culture, TV Award contests for Modern African Music have been established and continue to develop rapidly. The first major African music contest produced is the MTV Africa
awards which have been held in Africa four times beginning first in 2008. Afterward, these have been held on an erratic basis. It was first hosted in Nigeria in 2008, followed by Nairobi in 2009, Nigeria again in 2010. Then after a three year hiatus, it was hosted in Durban, South Africa in 2014.
However, recent efforts have started to supplant this production as a new competition has come from the Africa Muzic Magazine. This magazine seems to have published only three editions to date and its website is full of musical downloads. While how to contact seems unclear, we applaud its ambition and wish it well as magazine, website, and host of its own music awards contest.
It recently started its own competition the second of which will be held in Texas. This event, the African Muzik Magazine Awards (AFRIMMA) was held in Dallas, Texas on October the 15, 2015 at the Black Academy of arts and Letters. Many of the competitors are well known and indicate that it is trying to take the place of the MTV event. . To see who was up for the awards follow this URL: http://www.bellanaija.com/2015/07/27/the-african-muzik-magazine-awards-afrimma-2015-is-almost-here-see-the-list-of-nominees/. The winners are given below:
Ghanaian dancehall artiste and BET Award winner Stonebwoy won the Best African Dancehall Artiste at AFRIMMA 2015. The ‘Pull up’ hitmaker beat Shatta Wale and Nigerian artiste Patoranking to win the award.
AFRIMMA which took place in Dallas, Texas in the United States seeks to honor some of Africa’s top music artists and producers. A full list of winners is given below..
Best Male West Africa – Davido
Best Female West Africa Yemi Alade
Best Newcomer – Kiss Daniel – Ommy Dimpoz
Best Male East Africa – Diamond Platnumz
Best Video Director – Godfather
Best Male Central Africa – Yuri da Cunha
Best Female East Africa – Vanessa Mdee
Best African DJ USA – Dj Simple Simon
AFRIMMA Video of The Year – ‘Nana’ by Diamond Platnumz ft Flavour
Best Male Southern Africa – Aka
Crossing Boundaries With Music Award – Jidenna
Song of The Year – Ojuelegba – Wizkid
Best Dance In A Video – Serge Beynaud – Okeninkpin
Best Collaboration – Aka ft Burnaboy, DaL.E.S and JR – All Eyes On Me
Artist of The Year – Diamond Platnumz
AFRIMMA Inspirational Song – Bracket ft Diamond Platnumz – Alive *
Transformational Leadership Award – Botswana President, Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama
Legendary Award – Youssou Ndour
Best Traditional Act – Flavour
Music Producer of The Year – Legendury Beatz
Best Female Central Africa – Mani Bella
Best dancehall Artist – Stonebwoy
Best Dance In A Video – Serge Beynaud Okeninkpin
AFRIMMA Humanitarian Artist – 2face Idibia
It was also sponsored by BellaNaija which according to Wiki is a ‘Nigerian online magazine and blog that focuses on news, entertainment, fashion, lifestyle and other media contents aimed at Pan-African and Nigerian audiences. It was founded by Uche Eze in 2006 and has won several awards including the “Outstanding Contribution to Fashion Communication Award” in 2010 and the “Best Event Coverage Online Award” in 2011 and 2012.’ It has a nice website that covers the Arts and Entertainment. If you are interested in Nigerian fashion and music, it seems to be a good place to start.
Again, the AustinAfricaReview congratulates AFRIMMA on its Golden success!
Visual Arts: African Movies
Many, if not most of the African Art Exhibits in Texas were covered in the Introduction to AustinAfrica, so this particular edition of the AustinAfrica Review will focus on African Movies, particularly those from Nigeria which have come into their own, now surpassing Hollywood in terms of number of films, and only exceeded by ‘ Bollywood’ (India). The Nigerian film industry is not surprisingly called ‘Nollywood’ and fortunately for Americans is primarily Anglophone. Nollywood provides a lens into African life and is entertaining. These movies are free on the internet and provide an insight into modern Urban Nigeria as well as traditional lives found in the villages where most Nigerians live.
This is not to say that Hollywood has not had good movies about Africa. It has gone beyond the African Queen, King Solomon’s Mines, and the Tarzan franchises improved from the Johnny Weissmuller days. Some the latter versions go far beyond Edgar Rice Burroughs who despite having written 24 Tarzan books, never made it to Africa. But then neither did he go to Mars.
There are many recent Hollywood movies that provide insight into Africa; though some of them put the continent in a bad light, as per Blood Diamonds, The Last King of Africa, and Hotel Rwanda. Some are inspiring such as Mandela and Gorillas in the Mist; for certainly Africa does bring out something heroic in many people. I believe African Queen probably belongs in this category. The original funny view into the Modern West is The Gods Must Be Crazy. The good side is that many of these are on Netflix. A list of 100 best is given in this URL and where they might be located on the web: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls051534056/ .
There are some Hollywood movies that do take you there, for instance if one wants to know what it was like during the Biafran war when Northern and Western Nigeria fought a civil war with Eastern Nigeria, Half of a Yellow Sun is good.
The story about a man stealing a car only to find that there was an infant in the back seat as is found in Totsi is related to a true story in Nigeria which was famous at the time because the thief returns angrily to the couple left by the road and says ‘so take your baby’. A thief angry because he feels he must do the right thing in something so important as an infant life.
Much of the early productions in Africa were francophone and based in ‘French’ Africa such as the classic The Battle of Algiers. There are definitely good French films on Africa on Netflix. I find some of them well worth the subtitles. Some of the French films go a bit deeper, perhaps not with such grand cinematography, music, or themes but common place Africa. French government aid
to its own film industry has made it easier for French films about Africa to be made and to be distributed. Two movies more into character than action that I’ve watched are Dreams of Dust (gold fields in Niger) and a Screaming Man about a former national swimming champion working as a “pool man” at a luxury hotel. I am looking forward to seeing the film about BouBouCar Traore, a famous Malian blues man. Part of AA Reviews work in the future will be to dig these out for its followers. BouBouCar Traore such dignity and soul.
The Anglophone Market: Nollywood
African Stars in Hollywood
The Anglophone market is dominated by African producers and African actors some of which are now famous from Hollywood films. Some of the latter are Chiwetelu Ejiofor (Nigeria-Twelve Years a Slave). Djimon Hounson (Benin-The Gladiator), Peter Mensa (Ghana-300, Avatar, and the Spartacus-Sand and Blood), and David Oyelowo (Yoruba- Dr. King in Selma).
Nollywood’s Improbable Beginnings
But when African movies are mentioned now, there is primary reference to Nollywood. While cinematic technique is weak, particularly in the early days, the stories have a reality about them that makes them addictive to many Africans and Non-Africans who want good drama and action. Naturally, they do not have the money that make Hollywood classy and sharp, but they do have good stories about how Africans live their lives. The wonder of them is that there are so many and most are absolutely free. Besides YouTube, best used if one knows about the picture or the actors; there are several sites from which free movies may be downloaded. If they are not in English which many are, the movies will have subtitles in English. To download you will need to join the website. Some noted sites where downloads are possible are: iROKOtv.com, naij.com, NaijaPals.com, and mynollywoodmovies.com.
Among the first Nigerian films were made by Ola Balogun, a Yoruba whose first language was Igbo. He and Hubert Ogunde, a famous Yoruba actor and comedian, worked to try to make films in the 1960s, but the costs were too exorbitant to follow the Hollywood and Bollywood models of cinema companies putting out films periodically according to what producers or actors thought
would be interesting and then distributed/shown via cinema houses. This barrier meant that the start of television broadcasting in Nigeria made TV stations critical in providing financial support for Nigerian movies. By the 1980’s, each state had its own broadcasting station which allowed regional movie production and made it possible for each ethnic group to have its own content based on its culture and sometimes language. This development, along with Federal laws limiting foreign television content, resulted in producers in Lagos to begin televising local popular theater productions. Many of these were circulated on video as well, and a small-scale informal video movie trade developed.
However, what screening of films in cinema houses that had begun was doomed with the release of the Straight-to-Video movie Living in Bondage in 1992 by NEK Video Links owned by Kenneth Nnebue (an Igbo). The legend is that he had a bunch of unused cassette tapes so he just used them. This single act virtually launched the ‘home video’ market in Nigeria. Movies began being shot straight into video tapes replicated and sold for home viewing. This bit of ingenuity made the new Nigerian film industry. The flexibility also furthered supported locally oriented movies such that there arose Igbo movies, Yoruba movies, and later Hausa movies.
The possibility that each ethnic group could make movies in each own language or about its own life and culture grew the market even faster. Not only were the movies affordable, but they were about a life that the consumer understood and cherished which was very important given that there are more than 300 tribes in Nigeria. Of course, not each tribe made its own movies, but the regional association of tribes based on commonalities and an understood language; not only word but gesture and idiom, brought the stories close to the viewers.
It is not possible within this article to address the differences between the themes, styles, and storylines of the films within the different ethnicities. That is a long story to be told later.
How Nollywood Became Pan African
There are two major reasons why Nollywood has accessed into all parts of Africa. One has to do with technology, the other with truly relatable themes.
In 1985, Africa’s first pay TV channel M-Net was launched in South Africa. Slowly but surely it added new countries. In 1994 it added Nigeria. Its digital satellite televisions, MultiChoice, came on stream in 1995. It operates from two satellites which require only a small satellite dish and can provide programming to Africans at inexpensive rates. It now provides Direct to Home services to 50 African countries via eight channels from Africa Magic. These channels vary from general entertainment to movies. Some of these channels provide, in addition to Western content, African themed material. In those channels which are primarily African in content, Nollywood dominates. And now showing Nigeria’s importance, there are three Nigerian specific channels; All Magic Yoruba, All Magic Hausa, and All Magic Igbo available not only in Nigeria but in other countries.
Given Nollywood produces most of Africa’s movies; it was inevitable that Nollywood would find itself on most programs. Adding to the production advantage was the consumer market itself. Given that the Nigerian audience is larger than others, Nollywood’s movies became even more prominent. This is to be expected; first because of its African content, whether rural or urban, is “recognizable” and “relatable” to other Africans and second, there is the second incentive to play Nollywood because of the large Nigeria audience watching both general content or Nigerian specific channels.
Nigeria and Pan ‘Africanism’
Nollywood is seen everywhere in Africa and is liked because of the similar African themes. As two African academics have stated: ‘Nigerian Home videos tell us what our actual lifestyles are.’ However, there are mixed views as to Nollywood content as well as some expected sibling rivalry. Still in a BBC chronicle of opinions from many African countries:’ How Nigeria has Affected the Rest of Africa’, there were mostly positive comments by other Africans.
A South African intelligence group, Consultancy Africa Intelligence which aims to be the’ definitive source on expert research and analysis on the African, in Africa’ states the following in an article entitled ‘Nigeria, Nollywood as a positive tool for African Transformation’: “Although the early Nollywood movies predominantly dwelt on supernatural themes, the movie industry has
evolved. Despite some challenges that face Nollywood including quality of film and piracy, the film industry has positioned itself to inform its audience, which impacts Nigeria and beyond. Recent developments include the seeking of Nollywood’s endorsement during the 2011 general election and contribution to the removal of fuel subsidy in 2012. Furthermore, the industry “has tried to represent the disintegration of societal values such as women’s rights, civil society and governance.”
In summary, enjoy your Nollywood movies, but know that it also has its serious side in helping to develop a Pan African community based on Pan African values.
Thus closes AustinAfrica Review.