ThePingOfPong

Pieces on Film, Prose and Music by a Nigerian

Tag: Nigeria

RAPID REVIEWS: D’BANJ’S D’KINGS MEN

The Man Who Wants to be King

DKM by Dbanj

D’Banj may need Don Jazzy to produce anything with as much cultural resonance as The Entertainer. But with evidence presented on his compilation album, D’Kings Men, he is able to produce very listenable melodies without his erstwhile partner.

A good entertainer at least, he doesn’t jettison everything his reputation is made on: the sexual and material braggadocio remains, the once lost harmonica returns, and, tellingly, a few songs still bear Don Jazzy’s sound. Global smash Oliver Twist is here and For Example by Kayswitch, contains the hoarse background grumbling Don Jazzy perfected before the break-up-heard-around-the-world. Also the Igbo highlife track, Obimo is an inferior version of an earlier Don Jazzy produced tune, Make Me Fall In Love from his sophomore The Entertainer.

At twenty songs, it could be said this is D’Banj’s making up for lost time. He isn’t. The album contains four previously released songs and two remixes: Cashflow, Bachelor, Top of the World, Oliver Twist are songs the average radio listener has heard already.

Olamide shows up magnificently on the remix to his own runaway hit, First of All, but other artists have varying results: Durella is beastly on Ibadie, new boy, J Sol can sing but doesn’t have much of a personality on display. Fally Ipupa, it appears, is featured only for vanity points.

But it is Kanye West on the Scape Goat remix that puts D’Kings Men into perspective compared with D’Banj’s earlier efforts. Mr. West’s two verses are so unmemorable it is clear the power structures at Kanye’s GOOD Music are different from what obtained at Don Jazzy’s Mo Hits.

Watch the throne, Kanye announced on his album with Jay-Z; and so, for all this album’s titular posturing, it is clear who is king here.

RAPID REVIEWS: ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY MODE 9

Same Ol’ Mode

 

That Mode9 is still able to release albums in an industry that treats him with a shrug is a wonder.Apart from winning five consecutive Lyricist on the Roll plaques at the Hip Hop World Awards, he’s been left alone. On one hand it is tragic a rapper of such intelligence wallows in neglect while purveyors of clichés receive attention; still, it is terrific he is still making records when nearly all of his contemporaries and lyrical peers are not.
Three years after Da Vinci Mode he is back with punchlines nobody else offers. Named Alphabetical Order and in conjunction with XYZ, his producer, his newest effort has tracks literally in alphabetical order— one of the many self indulgent moves fans of the man have come to expect.

Novacane, Zoning Out, Let It Go would warm the cockles of hip hop heads, while lovers of R&B would gravitate towards Vacay and One on One.
Alphabetical Order isn’t as melodious as E Pluribus Unum his debut or as wildly inventive as his Pentium IX mixtape, but it tramples any other rap album out there; which confirms a long-standing truth: Mode9 is his own competition.

 

BOOK REVIEW: JUNE 12, 1993: ANNULMENT

THE DAY THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING

June 12, the date, as used in the media and in discussions, is really not a day, it is a period. Some might argue and say it is a moment. In fact, it is used to refer to the period between the announcement of the elections Babangida arranged and the incarceration of the widely acknowledged winner of that election. Some might say it ended with his death, others may say it ended when he declared himself president.

Whatever it is, one thing is accepted: it is beyond the 24 hours of the day June 12, 1993.

Cover, June 12, 1993: Annulment

Abraham Oshoko narrates the events of that period in his graphic novel, June 12 subtitled 1993: Annulment — apparently, there would be a sequel, 1994: Declaration.

The value of telling the story of one of Nigeria’s most controversial events in comic book form is fodder for debate. What isn’t, however, is the inherent value of storytelling itself. Now into its second decade of uninterrupted democracy, the story of the country’s democracy has to be told. This renders the format to some extent immaterial.

(The book is sponsored by the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy which inevitably puts its integrity as an impartial slice of history in a dubious position.)

Fitting with its cinematic aspect, the graphic novel begins with a ‘cast of characters’ from the two major figures of the time, Chief Moshood Abiola and Ibrahim Babangida to the less known, Colonel Abubakar Umar, General Aliyu Gusau to the almost forgotten, Baba Gana Kingibe and Arthur Nzeribe of the ephemeral ABN. It starts proper with a meeting between advisor Professor Omo Omoruyi, whose account of the annulment is indispensable, and President Babangida. Professor Omoruyi is berated by General Dogonyaro, commandant of the Staff College, Jaji, for attempting to get the president to approve the election.

 

A page from June 12, AnnulmentThis encounter sets up the conflict that the book carries throughout its 10 glossy chapters. For a story deprived of that great ingredient of graphic novels, suspense, and dependent on vast stretches of volubility, it succeeds in generating enough motivation to turn the page.

Nevertheless, that the book depends on heavy dialogue and pictures presents a contradiction as to its expected audience: young people might be impressed by the pictures, although its style is quite different from that of American comics, they might also be unimpressed with the absence of anything like physical action— the closest thing to heightened violence in the book, is a rowdy senate session which ends in a grabbing of the mace. But, of course, even that can’t shock a generation that has borne witness to several skirmishes in house of assemblies around the country and the recent mace-as-weapon incident in Rivers state.

It may, however, connect with older audiences, who are old enough to remember the events and also trace the style back to the Ikebe Super comics of the 80s. But they may prefer analyses than a straightforward narrative and may consider the novel method of the graphic novel, a mere gimmick.

If they do, it’s their loss: June 12 1993: Annulment, apart from having substance, is handsome and stylish— which is more than can be said for the event it covers.

NOLLYWOOD AND THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME

image from naij

The films made in Nollywood and now shown in the cinema are visually united by the airbrushed faces of famous faces, of pretty faces and the newest fascinating camera shot: the close-up and ideologically tied together by a lack of a philosophy. Maybe these disparate tropes can be considered a leap, an aesthetic leap: not too long ago what obtained were script writing movements.

The inaugural episode of these movements ( as seen in Living In Bondage and later, Rituals) featured ritualism and witchcraft- distinctly not the Harry Potter brand- finally defeated by the assured potency of Christianity; followed by melodramatic dramas presenting chasms between in-laws; by the 2000s, bolstered by the influx of young men and women attracted by the glamour of the small screen, Nollywood turned to the love story. The love story turned out to be the last major phase of the movement era before the entry of the big screen. Hybrids of all these have since been prevalent with a possible plot involving say two young lovers having to battle the ritualistic tendencies of a mother-in-law with the force of their piety and the unbreakable bond of an asexual love. Love wins; Religion wins; what is art?

(A few films had managed to have some merit: in the 1990’s, the films of Amaka Igwe, especially the deservedly praised domestic drama Violated, were highlights; before he veered into organizing comedy shows, Opa Williams, though often dipping into bathos, made few films capturing the plight of Nigeria’s lower class accurately; the early films of Emem Isong which combined the personal and the political were successful; even films preoccupied with anachronistically dressed villagers had minor champions- the Norbert Young vehicle, Igodo remains the peak of that sub-genre’s achievements.)

The entry of the cinema has seen the setting of films move to urban locations ostensibly to cater to the needs of the emerging middle class. This readjustment to the whims of this class with supposedly elite taste propels the faux-sophistication threatening to sweep the industry into artistic irrelevance using false elements of our culture.

Put simply; the middle class, for whom the average film making its way to the cinema is targeted, appears to be different only with regards to bank balance; its aesthetic taste struggles between the abyss of vulgarity and the uncertainty of the middlebrow and is satisfied with the former clothed in the garish apparel of the latter.

The rich, a more accurate label for this class, unwilling and perhaps unable to discern the shape of things from their nature, lap up these story lines persuaded by bright lights and the prohibitive price of movie tickets- this last, in supreme obeisance to the laws of capitalism, keeps the poor effectively out of sight.

Nevertheless, the elite/middle class/rich are not the only forces keeping the film industry in stagnant perpetuity; the (print) media has a share in the blame.

Nigerians are happy when the industry gets western coverage- recently The New York Times and The Guardian have devoted inches to Nollywood. Members of the industry are quick to point this out as a mark of success intentionally ignoring or perhaps oblivious of the condescending tone adopted in such reports: there is always a ‘biased balancing’ of the reportage, for instance in a piece hailing Kunle Afolayan as the African Martin Scorsese (a dubious praise as even Marty was not the Martin Scorsese after his first two films,) the New York Times presented the ambition of the man alongside the perils of film making in Nigeria and the antics of Osita Iheme (Pawpaw).

The fact is it is volume, not artistic vision or merit, that has garnered Nollywood these mentions in western media. These pieces subtly express surprise and mockery; never envy, never unreserved praise- two forms of acclaim regularly bestowed on Korean cinema in recent times.

This clamor for western validation is a product of the failure of our media to go beyond celebrity news and scandal; a refusal to delve into critical commentary of the film industry. It is the reason, the observation made by English literary theorist, Terry Eagleton, expressing the lack of a social function for criticism in the 80’s, adding that literary criticism at the time was stuck between ‘inchoate amateurism’ and ‘socially marginal professionalism’ is particularly true of the Nigerian film making industry today.

Actually, it is worse: it can be said that there is no professionalism in the media coverage of film in Nigeria as reports are confined within centerfold gossip and the spectacle of red carpeted premieres. The big papers in the country do not run reviews beyond plot summaries in what amounts to paid adverts by the cinemas or film sponsors. Or in extreme cases, a peer-cum-friend review is adopted. It is shameful the majority of the country’s newspaper and magazines do not devote pages to critical dissections of the arts even in the prestigious publications.

If the status quo must be altered (and it should): Big Media would have to do what it should: run reviews/criticisms that are, to paraphrase Odia Ofeimun, themselves works of art even if it means commissioning competent critics/writers; actors will have to do more than gesturing and grimacing, then hoping longevity in the industry will confer the neo-meaningless term ‘veteran’; directors, especially, will have to establish a guiding ideology and actually learn the craft; viewers, will have to be more critical and discerning.

For only then can the shape of things to come be anything near beautiful.

TANGO WITH ME: The Hand may be Hollywood’s but that Voice…

This is an old review- the film Tango With Me was released early 2011.

Where’s the chemistry?

They say the movie, Tango with Me has been in production since 2009. That information is an oddity and cheering news for an industry that considers haste a virtue, so perhaps the time ‘wasted’ would rid the movie of the flaws that bedevil the industry, the idea being the considerable time spent would leave sufficient time for postproduction where flaws are cut leaving a taut picture for the big screen.

They got that right. Technically, the movie is fine, its beauty amplified by the 35mm camera used; the crew evidently proud of their work take a chunk of time in the opening credits seemingly screaming, there’s division of labour! The director is not the producer is not the DoP is not the scriptwriter! The message is loud and clear, only partly for the audience but mainly for the rest of Nollywood, a visual cri de coeur: this is how it is done; this is how it should be done.

Here’s hoping it would meet open ears.

It is in this department that the film itself soars, apparently because the crew pay obeisance to the almighty 35mm, the picture so crisp there is a conceited need to do several close-ups of the pretty actors on display. The actors themselves are airbrushed to visual perfection- no one strand of hair is out of place even in anguish, even in bed. However, like most apparently flawless objects, the camera draws so much attention to itself that one is tempted to lean in and find cracks. And there are cracks.

Right at the beginning, the use of fading as transition device soon turns abrupt so that the effect is jarring, which rather than emphasise the scenes only suggests an inability to successfully close a scene.

So far, there is no mention of the story in this review and that is because the movie too puts the story on the back burner. Quite simply, the camera is the star, then the airbrushed stars, then the story. But then, what is the story?

Briefly: Despite an electric meet-cute a couple, Lola and Uzor (played by Genevieve Nnaji and a stolid Benjamin Johnson,) manages to be celibate till the wedding night when an act of violence pushes the marriage to the brink causing friends, family and a boss to intrude thus complicating a delicate situation. What do they do? They do a decidedly un-Nigerian thing, they go to a shrink a la Hollywood (though to reinforce the Nigerianness the movie calls him a marriage counsellor) who guides the uneasy couple through the tortuous paths of a troubled marriage. That is all that can be said as it is not possible to discuss the movie without a spoiler, a needless concealment as barely halfway through the film the big secret is revealed.

This is problematic, not just for the reviewer but for the movie itself and then the audience. The former’s problem is obvious; for the movie, the decision is disingenuous, since this kind of suspense is for thrillers not for dramas, so that it fails to be entirely suspenseful once the secret is out and then fails acutely to be a portrayal or keen analysis of a troubled marriage; then the viewer is short-changed as hardly has he settled into the movie when the ‘twist’ hid in all synopses and especially the trailer is revealed and he realizes that the denouement is far away. A case of bad marketing… but if it gets the cinema full, then perhaps it worked?

Perhaps. But it is an aggregation of things like this that undermine the artistic efforts of director Mahmoud Balogun. For an attraction as instant as theirs, it is curious how they avoided the bed before marriage, the lame attempt by Lola to explain it away notwithstanding; other than the need for a pretty face to stand beside Nnaji what exactly qualified Benjamin Johnson for this role? While he may have pulled off co-hosting Project Fame on the tube, the man’s qualities do not carry on the big screen and the chemistry between the leads is near nonexistent- probably why they succeeded at celibacy.

When Mark Zuckerberg was asked about The Social Network, he said, perhaps with a smile, “It’s surprising what they got right…” so too with Tango, where they got Cyril Stober to play himself casting news, though the gory pictures accompanying the news would never make it into the real NTA news bulletin. This is certainly a leaf borrowed from Hollywood’s playbook (alongside its relentless Mtn product placement). The effort to get it right is worthy of applause. But the trouble with levelling fierce praise at fares such as this is the tendency to dip into hyperbole as already some are chanting that this is the movie to revolutionize Nollywood.

Maybe technically. But then, it isn’t the first movie to use celluloid, Kelani, Amata, Afolayan have dallied with it. So there is bad news: this is not it.

At best it is a false dawn. Certainly Nollywood can do worse than learn a novel narrative device, some technique, fancy camera handling and its present equipment could do with some updating, still there is not too much to learn in terms of story and plot devices. Why? Well, because a lot of the usual Nollywood suspects are here.

Firstly, like everything in the movie, the song(s) are polished till shine but again it is style over substance as the movie is guilty of turning the soundtrack into little more than the script with some melody. This lyrical over-simplification ruins what is a fine musical production. There is however a delightful use of a Fela song.

Secondly, incredulity: without giving too much away, it is hard to believe that highbrows like the couple would err in not seeking medical help after the events in the pivotal scene. And it becomes silly when Lola takes a decision that would irk all but the most unreasonable of feminists.

Again, the supporting characters are not developed enough to stand up to the leads except for Joke Silva (as Lola’s mother) who overacts initially but manages to settle down to deliver a subtle performance in later scenes; her husband (played by Ahmed Yerima) steals the only scene he had space after catapulting himself into an inappropriate, illogical but strangely winning dance- from where the movie forcibly derives its title. Even in the face of all that is wrong, much like the daughter, the audience might just smile.

Then, in aiming for Hollywood, Balogun decides to rake up issues that are not particularly contentious in Nigeria: the abortion (“It’s my body”, says Lola), adoption debate is not one to provoke passionate argument here- most people know where they stand on these issues and it is highly unlikely that this movie would cause a reassessment. Whatever it is, it is not a movie to stir a debate. Most likely, the audience would leave the cinema same way they came; the issues so couched in the attractive 35mm wrapper that the said issues wouldn’t even come up on the drive home. And if while in the cinema, you feel somewhat alienated from the couple’s plight, don’t blame yourself, the people here are too well-spoken, too rich, too airbrushed and too silly to be everyday people.

Perhaps as overcompensation for the Americanization of the issues, director Balogun renders a stereotypical Nigerian view of a successful career woman: Uzor’s boss (competently portrayed by Tina Mba) is a twice divorcee who speaks longingly about love and companionship, while clearly after forbidden sex. It may seem pro-feminist to have a female supporting character going after what she wants strongly, but it really is veiled chauvinism.

Finally, there is an unmistakable flaw that fingers the movie as standard Nollywood fare. But first, some praise.

The script has some clever dialogue, even when it feels intended for stage rather than screen and the screenplay squeezes in a double entendre. There is also a remarkable scene where Uzor washes his hands, ostensibly as a postprandial ritual but the accompanying dialogue tells of a deeper implication.

That flaw referred to earlier, is its preachiness, that feature of lazy scriptwriting that makes employs God as a deus ex machina and has seen dozens of Nollywood movies end in a church. In latter scenes in Tango, every bit character contributes their bit, nearly turning the movie into a near two hour sermon, the type where the congregation has to stifle a yawn out of politeness; thankfully the cinema hall does not thrive on political correctness. It gets to a head when a lecherous character mouths her brand of holiness because it is okay to be Mouth Zion Film Ministries, but when one pays for a ticket to a movie directed by a director with a name as ambiguous Mahmoud Balogun, chances are, one expects an artistic experience rather than a homily; not that they are mutually exclusive but historically both seldom jell.

So the film’s fairytale denouement and its need to put in a Message sees it bogged down in Nollywood mire. In fact, when the end credits roll and you see to whom the movie is dedicated, you may sigh: “No wonder.”

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