The Swahiliwood sceptics

A class with the Ghetto Film Project, Uganda
A class with the Ghetto Film Project, Uganda

Seeing a TV set when boarding a long-distance bus in Tanzania usually made my heart sink. The music videos or the homegrown melodramas – the ones that take 10 minutes to tell you that our main character is upset, or one minute to show someone pulling into a driveway – never seemed to make those twelve-hour journeys pass more quickly.

So I understood Nes’s point, when I sat in on one of his classes in the slums of Uganda (I’ve written about that, here): be more subtle. To illustrate, the Ugandan filmmaker showed two shorts: powerful films with almost no dialogue that told a whole story without spelling it out. Western-made films, of course.

But I wonder now what he’d make of the critique, on Africa is a Country, of how the Western film industry is muscling in on (in this case) Tanzanian culture. Continue reading “The Swahiliwood sceptics”

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Get local

classroom-cSomewhat daunting to find myself speaking right after someone with three honorary doctorates and a knighthood last week – especially when Noerine Kaleeba opened her talk wondering why anyone would use Powerpoint (‘Where is the power… and where is the point??’).  Needless to say, the rest of the day – a seminar on HIV prevention organised by my former employers, BTC – was somewhat Powerpoint-heavy (presentations, including mine, available on their website).

As is often the case, the most interesting stuff came during the discussions. The formidable Ms Kaleeba, who founded one of the first AIDS support organisations in Africa and was once a lonely voice speaking out about the disease that claimed her husband, is still trampling over taboos. Continue reading “Get local”

Take the risk (and the picture)

JumaLearning photography means getting used to being told off – usually, for taking pictures. Sometimes, though, you get in trouble for not taking them.

Working at an aid agency in Dar es Salaam, I was responsible for documenting our fieldwork (and the one with the decent camera). When the heart-sinkingly inevitable time came to attend a funeral – the gardener/groundsman at our head office died after a sudden case of malaria – my colleagues told me: take photos.

Off we went, on a typically humid morning, to Juma’s home. A few hundred people had gathered under the awning. The women sat on the floor and wailed; the men stood or sat on wooden chairs wiping sweat from their brows. Continue reading “Take the risk (and the picture)”

Africa abroad: scramble for Guangzhou

Maybe I’m too early. There are flatscreen TVs, fashionably ripped jeans and perfume brands I’ve never heard of – but not much selling going on. Security guards lean over the stairwell. Traders count their stock. The four-storey Tianxiu building, in central Guangzhou in southern China, comes alive later perhaps.

I won’t know for sure, though, not today. It’s three in the afternoon, and I have just a few hours in the city. I’ve made a beeline for Tianxiu: Guangzhou is home to the largest African community in the country, and this is the heart of it all.

Fabrics on sale

Continue reading “Africa abroad: scramble for Guangzhou”

From dusty shores to a screen near you

Phew – first (published) video entirely made by me – in other words, my first credit as “self-shooting producer/director and editor”, not to mention researcher, translator, etc.

(Start playing, and then click on the subtitles icon, bottom right of the window, if they don’t automatically appear.)

Sifting through the footage, and figuring out how to pull a coherent thread from five different sets of interviews, most in Kiswahili, wasn’t so much fun. Planning and filming was wonderful, though. Kigoma, on the western edge of Tanzania, is far enough (two days’ drive) from Dar es Salaam to have its own, somewhat gentler character than that chaotic city; it’s tiny too, in comparison. But it’s a place of significance – an international crossroads; a landing place for refugees from Tanzania’s troubled neighbours to the west (Burundi and DRC); the endpoint of the country’s first rattling railway line  – and the spot where, supposedly, Stanley found Livingstone. Continue reading “From dusty shores to a screen near you”