For our last in this mini-series of the cinematic ‘woods’ taking or providing inspiration to Bollywood, we travel to Kannywood, in northern Nigeria.
In the early 1990’s I was working for some months on the borders of Iran and Iraq. We lived in tents on a sort of heavily mined DMZ on a plateau in the dry dun hills that rose steadily into the Zagros mountains. The nearest city, to which we repaired once a fortnight or so, was Suleymaniah, the largest centre of Kurds in Eastern Iraq.
On one trip into town I swung through the crowded bazaars in search of a particular brand of cigarette. The constricted street led into a small square which was crowned with a cinema hall. That evening’s show was a potboiler from India called Insaaf ke Tarazu (Scales of Justice). I had been aware that Bollywood films were popular beyond the borders of India but this was the first time I had actually seen Indian heroes and heroines doing their moves and making their faces on posters in a foreign land.
A few months before arriving in Iraq, I had spent a long time in Pakistan working for the UN; I was interviewing refugees from Iraq and Iran for resettlement in the West. One Iranian young man took the interview in flawless Urdu. I was surprised and impressed and asked him how he had become fluent. I suspected he might be a local student and was trying to rort the UN system to get to Europe. He insisted that he’d learned Urdu from watching Bollywood movies on TV. One day, he hoped to return to the sub continent to try his hand at acting.
Raj Kapoor’s giant hit of 1955 Shri 420 , had been a major hit in the Soviet Union and other East European countries. Across the Middle East and South East Asia, people who otherwise spoke not a word of Hindi, could rattle off entire dialogues from Indian films. Indeed, for the developing and recently Independent former colonies of Asia and Africa, the films of Bombay were a sort of cultural security blanket, far more important to popular culture than the films and heroes of Hollywood which were causing similar waves in post war Europe.
And like jazz, that American music that found such fertile ground around the world, the playback singer based music of Hindi cinema, was the soundtrack for millions of African, Middle Eastern and Asian youth growing up in the 50s-70s.
So I wouldn’t say I was surprised but rather entirely pleased to discover through today’s featured record, Harafinso: Bollywood Inspired Film Music from Hausa Nigeria. Put out by the excellent cultural warriors at sahelsounds this record gives the world the chance to listen into contemporary popular music from Kano and Kaduna and the Islamic lands of northern Nigeria.
Full post and goodies here