When Nigeria became independent, the Lebanese cinema owners took the unilateral decision to reduce the number of European films and show films from Asia, particularly India. It was not clear what motivated this decision. The Lebanese who owned the cinemas in Kano at the time, and who decided what was screened, were Christians, and thus had little reason to promote Islamic films from the north Africa (especially Egypt). At the same time the need to continuously show European films in theaters has been drastically reduced by the political independence which saw the departure of many of their clients.
Since the main purpose of setting up the cinemas for the local popular was entertainment, Hindi films with their spectacular sets, storylines that echo Hausa traditional societies, mode of dressing of the actors and actresses, as well as the lavish song and dances would seem to fill the niche. Rex cinema led to the way to screening Hindi cinema in 1961 with Cenghiz Khan (1957 and directed by Kenda Kapoor). Thousands of others that follow in all the other cinemas included Raaste Ka Patthar (1972), Waqt (1965) Rani Rupmati (1957), Dost (1974) Nagin (1976), Hercules (1964), Jaal (1952), Sangeeta (1950), Charas (1976), Kranti (1979), Al-Hilal (1935) Dharmatama (1975), Loafer (1974), Amar Deep (1958) Dharam Karam (1975). These became the staple entertainment diet of Hausa urban youth, as well as provincial cinemas.
Thus, it was not surprising that Sani Lamma, Hamisu Gurgu and Sidi Musa used Hindi films as their creative template when laying the foundations of what would later become Kannywood. Naturally, there has to be dance routines, even in their amateurish efforts.
The dance routines in these films were taken care of by Sidiya Abubakar, a freelance artiste, who will appear on screen, miming and dancing to Hindi songs in the background in some of the films they made, especially those too complex for the three-tape recorders technique. Sidiya also screened independent films of her solo performances. She often appeared dressed in Hindi film star clothing, with a wig on her head (to enrich her hair so that it “flows” like that of an Indian actress).
She subsequently became known as “Baƙar Indiya” (African Indian) when one of her tapes was shown on NTA in 1983, to the dismay of the GDC who accused her of selling their works for profit which she does not want to share with them. She denied this and insisted the tape was given on loan to a staff of the television station, and he simply played it as a curio. This acrimony led to her leaving the GDC and the beginning of a long feud with Hamisu Gurgu (which, interestingly was only bridged during the course of fieldwork for this book in 2004 when I forced them to reconcile!).
Sidiya’ s intense affinity to Hindi cinema was so much that she was earlier sponsored on a trip to India in 1973 by Alhaji Hassan Sunusi Ɗantata, the first person in Kano at the time willing to sponsor artistes. While in India, she met then popular female stars such as Helen, Hema Malini, and also Amitabh Bachchan. She also visited Indian studio soundstages where she witnessed the shooting of some films.
It was not, however, all Hindi film rip-offs. There was a genuine attempt to produce a Hausa family drama with a more national appeal in English language. The prospects of using small home box office as a source of entertainment different from the state fare became attractive in 1984 to a coalition of senior producers and engineers from NTA, CTV and KNARDA, the state agricultural agency and who formed Sahel Motion Pictures company in Kano.
Their first production was Magaji Family in 1985, a soap-opera about a fairly typical modern Hausa family—as contrasted to “ordinary” Hausa families depicted in NTA Kano dramas. What made it innovative was the fact that it was in English, rather than Hausa language, meaning that it was clearly targeted at non-Hausa audiences. It is instructive that while the producers, scriptwriters and directors of the new company were indeed experts in media and communications, particularly at the community level, the entire enterprise was created as a business proposition by prominent Kano businessmen, specifically Alhaji Tijjani Sani, Alhaji Umar Usman Tofa, and Kabiru Ibrahim Gaya (yes, the former Senator and former Governor of Kano!). This business, rather than professional production orientation led to the breakup of any partnership among the initially disparate producers.
The success of this critically acclaimed soap opera which was actually broadcast on national network television, further intensified efforts by drama groups on how to get in on the act, as it were. Thus, more media production companies were spawned from 1984 to 1986 as a result of the success of Sahel Motion Pictures. These included Leader Communication, Moving Image, Fine Tune, Drum Beat, Sahara Motion Pictures, Mu’azat Enterprises and others.
Right from the start it was clear that there would be intense rivalry between the producers, directors and stars from these media studios whose main focus was on documentary programs and television dramas for government agencies and companies. Further, they had to compete with the massive popularity of Hausa TV dramas—a process which right from there and then signaled the futility of Hausa actors in English-medium productions. Surprisingly for such a group of highly experienced (and professionally trained) media practitioners, there were really no efforts to produce a video film as a marketable commodity.
Hausa drama episodes were sporadically available in urban northern Nigerian markets. But these were rather furtively taken to the cassette dealers by employees of the various television stations (so in effect, the tapes were illegal). There was a market especially for the more popular episodes. All that is needed is a catalyst. This was to come in a form of a scriptwriter and novelist called Aminu Hassan Yakasai.
I have quite often been asked to translate these postings into Hausa. I use English in order to reach to wider audiences. However, FIM magazine had held a series of interviews with these Fountainheads in the Hausa language. I have scanned the interviews with each of them and uploaded them to my OneDrive storage. You can download all the three using the link below.
Fim, April 2004 – Sidiya Baƙar Indiya
Fim, May 2004 – Hamisu Gurgu
Fim, September 2004 – Sidi Musa Interview
Links from my drive: