Sunday, January 31, 2010

Turning Point Pictures' I sing Of A Well - a review

I was really excited after I saw the trailer for 'I sing of a well (ISOAW)'. It looked like a great movie with some awesome actors. The Ghanaian movie industry had become so exciting that arguably Ghana's best actress of all-time, Akofa Edjeani Asiedu, wanted to make a comeback into the industry. It looked like one of those movies set in the village with English lines, but the movie had a little more oomph. When I was in Ghana during Christmas, I tried to catch a premiere or buy the VCD/DVD. The premieres had already been done and the producers hadn't committed the knee-jerk reaction to selling the VCDs, they were continuing to premiere in other countries and showing the movie in film festivals around the world. Ghanaian movie producers, take note. I believe this movie would do well in film festivals because it's awesome! How do I know? I watched it. I know people who know people who work with people who made the movie. Ghana's too small anyway :-)

The movie begins with a narration by Jimmy Jean-Louis who tells us about the film. Jimmy is the 'fine' Black man who played the main character in Phat Girls and he's from Haiti. Well, the film is set a long time ago, before Don Diego de Azambuja and Yaa Asantewaa. Maybe 12th century. We can't see Jimmy, we only hear his voice and some people making background noises behind a black screen. The movie has a great cast - John Osei Tutu Agyeman, Akofa Edjeani Asiedu, Godwin Kotey, Kofi Mends, Prince David Osei, Doris Sackitey, Luckie Lawson, Stacy Amoateng (host of MUSIC MUSIC), Prince Yawson (Waakye), etc.

The movie is set in Kotengbi, a village in the Mali empire. We know a lot about the Mali Empire from Social Studies classes, but villages like Kotengbi were not that important to be studied. In fact, we don't know much about how living in the 12th century in West Africa was so we can't even criticize the movie that much for what we see in it. Of course, they didn't speak English then but the characters are speaking English in the movie. Then again, what language was Mansa Musa and his crew speaking in the 12th century? Is that language still alive? So, Leila Djansi (director) and her crew decided that the language used alongside English should be Ewe. Yes, Ayigbe. Have you seen any Ghanaian movie with Ewe lines? I haven't. I was just loving this. I picked out a few Ewe words - Mawu, medekuku, efoa, dzigbordi. A lot of the actors are not Ewe, but they did well speaking it. Every time a Ghanaian language is used in a movie, I am looking for good and detailed sub-titles. ISOAW did a good job with this though I would have loved some subtitles for the Ewe songs that were sung. The 12th century was a little too early for hiplife or Ayigbe Edem songs. Credit Leila and her crew for sticking to their guns :-)

The movie talks about a prince, his desires and his will to save his kingdom from slave raiders. Some people may not want to see movies about slavery, but this one is different. The movie doesn't dwell on slavery, people in chains, etc. It's about love, greed, will, superstition, power, etc. This movie offers us a chance to experience life ages ago. With this done, I am still waiting for a movie on Yaa Asantewaa.

Every great movie must have great dialogue/lines/quotes. "I don't want to just see you, I want to touch you". Now that's a line with which a man could use to propose to a woman. But we live in different times, we don't have too many pre-marital sex fans. "The moon would be a fool not to come out and gaze at your beauty". The movie also made use of some proverbs and idioms.

My favorite character in the movie was the priestess, Alarka. I speak what I see, I only speak what I see. She reminded me of Okomfo Anokye, how traditional priests in the Ghanaian cultural setting prophesy and know the future. They say wise words and it's left to the inhabitants to decipher the meaning. Alarka was used to great effect in the movie's storyline and that was awesome.

The soundtrack was nice. We saw Akofa's character (Soraya) singing. Traditionally, Ghanaians like to sing when they are working. We saw this too. I like that the two coronations of kings had two different soundtracks, which sang the emotions and feelings of the 'movie' at those points. I think they did well choosing what songs to play at different times. There was a song they played at the end of the movie but I wasn't sure if it was Ghanaian. Sounded like one of those Afro-poppish Afro-beatish songs from Mali or Senegal. Leila Djansi can make some music though, she composed 'Evo' and'Dzigbordi' was by Mary Djansi MC-Palm.

I like how they measured time based on agriculture. I suppose 10 farming seasons signifies 10 years. What meals did they have in those times? The movie tells us, cassava dough. Those times also had a lot of hunters. "It is the thrill of the hunt you love, not the animal".

"My brother's daughters are not cheap fowls to be given away on sentiment". Bride price has been a feature of African marriages for a long time and they must have been taken even more seriously in the time the movie was set. Often times, those who haggle over bride prices and increase them are the uncles and extended families. How unfair! Marriage is hard, these other attendant things shouldn't make it any tougher. Talking about marriage and pre-marital sex, I said the movie was about love, right? Right. We see sex scenes. There was some nice background music as well. "She sets your loins on fire". The movie has to be R-rated. We even see someone's butt. I didn't think that was necessary.

When a movie wells emotion in you, it must be doing something. I almost cried. It must have been the soundtrack. I remember when I first cried in a movie, it was when Simba's father died in Lion King. I see people crying in these 'Accra movies' constantly, but I am never driven to cry with them. ISOAW did it well.

I like the cast used. Akofa did very well in her role though questions have been raised whether she should have remained a producer and not joined the cast. JOT Agyeman did well too, though his accent sounded a little foreign. Luckie Lawson did great too and Mary Yirenkyi played Alarka very well. I wonder how the cast was chosen but I will find this out from Leila herself. I told you, Ghana is such a small country.

But we are doing big things! Ghanaian movies are back and improving. 'I sing of a well' was spectacular. I just hope I haven't given the movie away, because you must all see it. Just be patient because I am not sure you'll see it on Youtube anytime soon. And that's the way it should be. :-) The movie had a huge crew! A lot of work was put into the movie and it paid off with the film. I hope it pays off financially for Turning Point Pictures and Calabash Images. ISOAW is definitely one of the better Ghanaian movies I've seen. Kudos!

Recapping Ghana's Black Stars at CAN 2010

Oh so close! That's what I said when it dawned on me we had lost the game. The lady sitting near me seemed to agree with my assertion. I had been watching it with a couple of friends, two of which were Ghanaian. We watched as the 'boys' battled, stayed aggressive, created chances, foiled their opponents' chances, oohing and aahing through an edgy 90 minutes of football. I had predicted, 'whoever would score first' would win the game and the tournament. After all, we had had 3 consecutive lone goal victories. When that first goal came in the 85th minute and it wasn't for Mother Ghana, it seemed the game had been decided. How cruel! We didn't have enough time to respond. Football is like that. Sometimes it is not dictated by luck, karma, form, reputation, paper, prophecies, superstition or jersey colours. It is dictated by grabbing opportunities and utilizing them. People hardly remember the team that won silver, but even fewer remember the team that won bronze. Congratulations to Egypt for doing that and lifting the African Cup of Nations 2010 in Angola over Ghana.

I was one of many who didn't give the Black Stars much a chance to do well in the COCAN 2010. The team was inexperienced, and young. Some of the players were tested though. 7 members of the FIFA U-20 Youth World Cup winning squad were part of this squad, and they had passed the ultimate test of extra-time and penalties against the footballing nation that is Brazil. We had injuries to countless regulars and some other regulars were out of form or warming benches in Europe. As a lesson to one Black Star and his mother, Sulley Muntari was told, the Black Stars of Ghana still exists without him. "No Sulley Muntari, no Ghana" my foot. Konongo Pele will be proud of the Black Stars today. Stephen Appiah was too unfit to come provide moral support and Michael Essien had not fully recovered to stay in camp and provide the needed 'vim' to spur on the players available. Turns out our team had a whole lot of 'vim'! Black Stars, metu me kyɛ ma mo!

I was loving and hating our group at the COCAN 2010. We were drawn together with our neighbouring countries. The names just looked good together - Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo and Burkina Faso. If history had unfolded a little differently, all 4 countries could have been one. Imagine that for a second. 'Volta' sounds like the most appropriate name for this union. We would have been a strong and great nation. Let's discuss how great we could have been later but imagine the football team. We'll have Emmanuel Adebayor and Didier Drogba in attack. We'd 've had Jonathan Pitroipa on the right wing. A team capable of winning any major tournament. Kai, Burkina Faso and Togo joining Ghana would be enough sef. I'm allowed to fantasize. But fantasies don't play football either.

Because if they did, Greece wouldn't have that Euro Cup in 2004 and done 'kowtow' in the Olympics later that year. News of the Togolese team being ambushed rocked Africa and the footballing world. CAF proved how anal they were by banning them for their government interfering in the national team. If you want to punish the government, do you do it by banning the national team? Asamanka! (Kai, I don't remember the last time I used this word, but it feels to use it now). That said, how could the Cabinda rebels commit such a heinous act! Use a footballing tourney to draw attention to your rebel cause? Ambush a foreign nation's pride? Ungrande som! The Black Stars were to be the first opponents of the Hawks of Togo and waited a week to kick a ball. The rustiness must have shown because Ivory Coast's Elephants walked over the Stars in a 3-1 win. Ghanaians cried foul! The team sucks! They'll disgrace us. Milo doesn't taste good! Mumuvan is a horrible coach.

Me, I looked forward to the Burkinabe game. I knew we could win and that win was all the confidence this young, inexperienced but 'tested' team needed. The most recognisable player who fits the bill appropriately wore the crown. Dede Ayew's header sent Ghana through to a date with Angola in the quarter-finals. Somewhere I feared the Angolans would scare 'us' with news of being a bad host. Other than beating up a Ghanaian journalist and initially giving us a goal-postless training pitch, we didn't hear much. We made them pay. We took a chance and Angola's Palancas Negras (Black Antelopes) took none and Asamoah Gyan's shot sent us to the semis. A Black Antelope can only look unto a Black Star. ;-) Thanks Angola for a great tournament though. I still plan to visit the country, see Kuduro live in action and dance to some Kizomba with some linda babes. ;-)

Next up were the Super Eagles Chickens of Nigeria. I think Ghana-Nigeria is one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports. We had another chapter to write. To many Ghanaians, beating Nigeria would be enough for the tournament. After all, we didn't expect to challenge for the trophy anyway. Nigeria beat Ghana in CAN 2006, we gained a little revenge in the Brentford Massacre of 2007, We beat Nigeria again in CAN 2008, in front of the teeming Black Star nation at the Ohene Djan sports stadium in Accra. I was very confident we'd beat Nigeria though the game was in Angola and we had an undermanned team of 'boys'. But well, Omo Naija, you learnt what we Ghanaians already knew - "The boys are gewd". An Asamoah Gyan header decided the game. Nigeria cried that they had more chances but football sometimes works just like the lottery. Except here, you can dictate your destiny by 'taking your chances'. Besides, Zambia had watched their wasted chances turn into a penalty shoot-out that they lost.

So the final came. Our opponents - The Pharaohs of Egypt. The team that seemed to lord over African football but didn't have the vim, 'capa', drive, *something* to qualify for football's biggest showpiece, the World Cup. I believed we could beat them too. We knew our game plan and so far as we stayed disciplined and took our chances, the cup would be ours. We stayed disciplined and that one moment where we lost concentration led to their goal and we spurned many chances before. Hats off to Egypt. They kept to their game plan. They had 'destroyed' all their opponents, including Nigeria, Cameroun and their bitterest rivals, Algeria. For 85 minutes. they toiled against the Black Stars' discipline and didn't get rattled. Wait, did I just put discipline and Black Stars in the same sentence (favourably)? The future is bright. Egypt's team didn't start taking shots from 30 meters or rushing attacks. It's something we can learn from them. I don't know why coaches of the Black Stars are averse to making substitutions. How many games have we lost that Dramani started? Hmm, superstition. Thank you Egypt for teaching us a couple of things. Now sit at home and enjoy 'agoro-kpalongo-apatampa' soccer and attention-grabbing dances at the South African Mundial in June/July.

The Black Stars' team needs work and we'll address this in a later post. For now, thanks for the memories. Thanks for the highs where you showed us grit, determination, discipline and aggression could silence critics. Thanks for the lows that made sure success didn't get into our heads and we understood that there was more work to be done and that we may have been an unfinished product. We had a lot of revelations in this tournament and the 'boys' definitely grew with these games. The tourney should be successful, though we failed to lift the cup. Milo, I know I have criticized you for being from Serbia, but this year, you serb just one country. It is Ghana. Osee, osee, Black Stars ei, forward ever!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sparrow Productions' A Sting In A Tale' - a review of the soundtrack

So I am back with another review of Sparrow Productions' "A Sting In A Tale" (ASIAT). After my first review, many people wondered how I was able to give 'this movie' such a great review. I dunno. Maybe I look for different things when watching Ghanaian movies. I am not too impressed by the overdramatized scenes, big English and the other features of 'Gollywood' movies today. I am a big fan of soundtracks. Music in Ghana has come a long way and I think Ghanaian movies should lean on its popularity and versatility to improve. I love how Shirley Frimpong-Manso and her crew have been making use of Ghanaian music in their movies, right from 'Life and Living it'. I must commend Shirley, Chris Attoh (yes, him) and my Odadee friend, Elom Adablah for a great job on ASIAT's soundtrack.

The first scene with the lorry/bus breaking down had me smiling. I'm not sure what song they were playing for this 'Monsi mpia' scene. 'Monsi mpia' means '(you) get down and push'. The song was a nice highlife tune though, sounded like one that Osibisa would do (Afro-rock). Cars breaking down on Ghanaian roads is a very common occurrence and it was 'nice' to put this in the movie. It sets up the challenges and struggles Nii Ayi and Kuuku were going to face. I believe Paapa Yankson's son, Silas Yankson, once released a song called 'Wonsi mpia'. I'd have loved for that song to be played here.

Another interesting song was the one used during the first bar/spot scene where we got introduced to my favorite character in the movie, Rocker Fella. "Na she be the girl o, when the boys see her, them dey feel am .... she go do sharp sharp". Sounds like it was from VIP (Vision in Progress). It's always interesting when you watch some African movies and you see people dancing in a spot/cub/bar with the 'soundtrack' blazing loudly. In a lot of these scenes, the song we're hearing from the movie is not what is being at the club; because the revellers are not really 'singing along'. Then again, I wonder why this VIP song was chosen, and not Bradez's Simple, Echo's Golo golo or Okyeame Kwame's Woso.

I thought it was interesting when they played that song with the "Northern Ghana language" lyrics when Nii Ayi and Kuuku visited the village in search of help. Did Sparrow mean all the poor places in Ghana are inhabited by people from Northern Ghana? Most of Ghana's slums may feed this notion some truth (Zongos) until you go to places like Jamestown. The song used for this scene was straight from Nima, specifically from Nima's most famous ambassadors, VIP. I'm not sure the name of the song, but it featured VIP and FOI (Fruits of Inspiration). I like how VIP & FOI were repping different hoods - Ashaiman, Kumasi, Kano, Kaduna, Madina, Shukura, etc. When I hear Hausa songs, "I'm just loving it" (said in a Don Capo Cheerz voice). Eventually, we hear some Twi lyrics in the song though. Kuu's uncle must also not have known how much it cost to go to America, judging by his contribution. You have to watch the movie to find out what exactly his contribution was. I loved that they were drinking palm wine though. Super!

There were a few Twi and Ga lines used in the movie. I'm not sure where the movie was set, but I heard a lot of Ga lines. We also hear a Ga folk song sang by Kuuku and Nii Ayi in the "No government, no God, just us against the world scene". What is the best soundtrack for a fight scene? I think some Abodam music from Kwaw Kese should have worked there. Maybe Oye nonsense?

I was really loving the movie but when Sarkodie's Borga was played, I was going nuts and bolts! What a song to play! What other song was there to play after Kuuku and Nii Ayi's Borga/visa/pink pastures/Yankee move had failed? "Borga, borga ɛna ɛyɛɛ dɛn!" It seems this was the major track for the movie though it doesn't have any 'ghost' lyrics. Aren't there any popular Sakawa songs? One should have been played when James 'sakawaed' the two friends. This one, I dey try Sakawa, doesn't fit the bill though.

Song in the background - "Na every day walka walka o". Conversation then starts with "I walk upright and tall in poverty, on the surface of wealth". I'm not making this up. Not sure the song played here either, sounds like some old school highlife. I like the drumming music used for the scene where the guy does the ritual. Purely African, no bull. Also liked the score for the hospital scene. Often times in African movies, those scenes go on forever with the song being played but I like how the score was varied throughout and didn't seem to last forever. The scene were Nii Ayi 'gives' Kuuku a bath was forgettable in my opinion. There is a song sang by a melodious female voice which I can't recognise. Felt like one of the Nollywood songs. I guess there are no sad hiplife songs? :-)

We see Nii Ayi thinking about his situation with a soundtrack of "Chale e no be easy, the way we living in the GH" I am surprised I'd never heard this song before or even recognise the voice. The next scene, we have a song most Ghanaians would recognise playing - World Trade Center by 4x4. This song was huge in Ghana last summer right around when the movie was being shot. The song was played during Kuuku's 'house-cooling' party. Sad thing is, we didn't see any big booty girls at the party. ;-). "Ebe like say you no know say your body super; Girl, I go do anything to be your lover, baby". Naughty smile.

"Lil Shaker on the beat, just breathe!" "When I walk in the club, its all eyes on me." They played D-Black and Kwaku-T's Breathe from Kuuku's preparation at home (was he wearing a Polo shirt) to his time at that Citizen Kofi club scene. Kuuku passed by an Ashawo spot (heard a remix of Flavour's Ashawo as well) on his way to CK. I was really feeling the 'Breathe' track then. Nice choice. Readers, welcome the GH rap (Ghanaian hip-hop) movement. Now you can hear English rap songs played in Ghanaian clubs that are not American. Yes, we can. :-)

I didn't hear too many foreign songs in this movie, which is great. I love how Sparrow's been working hard to find local songs that match the pulse of their movies. I don't know the name of the song played at the end. It was in English but sounded Ghanaian. I asked Chris Attoh for an answer and may just have to ask Elom Adablah too. But I will really like to ask Shirley Frimpong-Manso herself. Tried doing so when I was in Ghana but she and her crew were busy shooting another movie. At Christmas time? Yes. Shirley and her crew must be doing well to be shooting movies close to Christmas. Well done, Sparrow productions. More 'garis' to your elbow.

Photos from A Sting In A Tale website.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The booming Ghanaian movie industry and its challenges

Ever since my brother sent me that text saying 'A Sting In a Tale' was a bomb, I had been waiting to see it myself. On the second day of my latest Ghana trip, I saw the movie being sold on the streets of Accra. I was caught in two minds. The movie was premiered in November and VCD copies are already being sold? Well, I really want to see this movie, so it's great that now I could buy a copy. A lot of movies were being sold by different hawkers, in fact those selling ASIAT were everywhere. A few other interesting movies were being sold too. If you doubted whether making movies in Ghana was a 'bad' business, doubt no more. It still may be a home video business, but it pays. For some, it pays handsomely. There are a few things that have to be checked to sustain the industry so it doesn't enter the doldrums again in the near future.

Take Agya Koo for instance. He appeared on the scene a few years ago and is one of the biggest movie stars in Ghana. Do a quick search of Agya Koo on Youtube and you'll see how popular he is. Ghanaian movies have proliferated through different websites and have developed strong followings amongst Ghanaian communities abroad. I hear that before Agya Koo signs on to do any movie, he's paid 3000 Ghanaian Cedis (GhC) upfront, which is about $2100. Sounds like a small amount, but he's only on set for about 3-4 days. Yes, $2100 for 4 days of work. In Ogyakrom (or sikakrom). In Ghana. After the movie is done, he pockets another 1000 GhC. Agya Koo (Kofi Adu) probably appears in one or two movies per month, if you follow Ghanaian movies closely enough, you'll know it's true. Do the math.

The other members of the cast get paid too, albeit small amounts compared to what Kofi Adu takes home. Let's make an educated guess and say it costs Miracle Films or Danfo BA Productions about 50000 GhC to make a single movie. If you've seen the movies, the settings, etc won't cost that much. When the movie is done, it normally goes straight to DVD VCD. Each VCD has two disks for a total price of 5 GhC. If you ask around, those who wholesale and retail the movies, as well as the young men and women selling them on the streets and street corners, would tell you over 12000 copies of each movie is sold. That gives us 60000 GhC and a profit of 10000 GhC. For just one movie! Business opportunity, I tell you.

These Kumasi/Twi/Agya Koo/Kyeiwaa movies hardly do any cinema premieres. Is it that their audience cannot afford the GhC 5/10/15/20 to watch the movies at the Accra International Conference Center, Silverbird Cinema or KNUST auditoriums? I don't know. Let's look at the Accra/Takoradi/English movies. A good number of them are doing premieres and charging 5/10/15/20 GhC. In addition to the VCD sales, they pocket some box office sales. I tell you, this movie business is good. Recently, one movie producer, Socrate Sarfo, said movie premiering is a waste of time, energy and money. Abdul Salam of Venus Productions and Shirley Frimpong-Manso of Sparrow Productions have debunked those claims. Shirley said that if she incurred losses on the premieres, she'd have stopped them.

There are challenges though. The primary challenge is piracy. An aunt argued that ASIAT had to be on VCD soon enough because the pirates may strike first. The pirates do strike. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a hawker brandishing a VCD called 'The 3 Virgins' in front of me as our car was stuck in traffic. The VCD cover had a picture of Jackie Appiah, Lydia Forson and Naa Ashorkor Mensah Doku. Sound familiar? Yes, the Perfect Picture VCD cover has a similar picture. Some folks in Nigeria (smh) had repackaged the movie with a new title, new production house, etc to sell the movie. And these were being sold right under our noses in Ghana. The hawker told me it's the Part 2 of Perfect Picture. "This is such bullshit". Some other Nigerian production house had done the same for Heart of Men, renaming it 'Forbidden Fruit'. This is what they call 419. But wait, with the Sakawa going on in Ghana, I won't be surprised, if some Ghanaians were behind this and hiding behind some Nigerian names, etc.

Ghanaian movies have been popularised through various internet channels. Today, many African movie fans know different websites with which to watch African movies. For free. At anytime. These websites feature mostly Nigerian and then Ghanaian movies. Youtube has many movies as well, including some from Ethiopia, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, etc. If you do some proper research, you'll realise the best African movies come from South Africa and the French-speaking countries. These are the ones gunning for international honours, being shown an international festivals and entering DVD collection in foreign stores and school libraries. Enjoying movie popularity is okay but we should want to be part of the conversation when it comes to winning awards and entering international consideration. The VCD format seems to easy to pirate. There are strong concerns whether the movie houses make any money off their movies being shown for free online or sold internationally.

The trailer for Leila Djansi and Akofa Edjeani Asiedu's I Sing Of A Well (ISOAW) made the rounds late last year. It was premiered in Ghana even before ASIAT but I couldn't find the VCDs or DVDs to buy in Ghana. Why? ISOAW is going to different film festivals and is being premiered around the world to different audiences. That's what I am talking about. Maybe Leila has connections, but yes, that's what the film industry needs - more connections. Access to cutting-edge technology, markets, bloggers and journalists who can promote their movies, critics who can rate them properly so they can gauge their progress. I hope to see Leila make more movies in Ghana and Akofa herself contribute to the industry and bring on board some of the dominant but now dormant Ghanaian actors and actresses from the 90's.

KSM knows the movie business is booming and he released his first feature film in Ghana over the Christmas season. Double, a psychological thriller, was premiered at the National Theatre on Christmas Day, 2009. The cast included Anima Misa Amoah (KSM's sister), Charles Bucknor, JOT Agyeman, Nana Kofi Asante, Doris Ansah, Naa Ashorkor Mensah Doku, etc. Anima and Charles were both in Heritage Africa, a famous Ghanaian movie from the 80's, directed by Kwaw Ansah. I wanted to see the movie so bad but I wasn't sure when and where it was going to be shown in Kumasi. It was eventually shown at the Kumasi Polytechnic Hall sometime in late December. My neighbour saw it but didn't like the movie that much. Will have to watch this one to judge for myself. Watch the trailer. We are making thrillers now eh, sweet. People believe KSM should have made a comedy. Maybe, next time.

I also saw 'Sin of the Soul', a film from the same stable that made 'Heart of Men', Heroes production. It featured Majid Michel, Nadia Buari, Prince David Osei, Ekow Smith Asante, Kalsum Sinare, etc. If you don't believe there is money in acting in Ghana, look at Kalsum Sinare. I couldn't even recognise her, she put on weight papa! The movie was good and I'll review it later. I also saw Silent Scandals, a new Nigerian movie starring Genevieve Nnaji and Majid Erawoc. Yes, his name on the Silverbird Cinema poster was Majid Erawoc. Maybe that's what he's called in Naija. The movie was good too, except the VCD 2 didn't work. And apparently, many people who bought the movie had faulty VCD 2's. Hmmm. The guy selling the movies was kind enough to replace it for us.

These are exciting times for Ghanaian and African movies in general. The movies are popular, the actors are rock stars, there are many showbiz sites peddling rumours and paparazzi news, etc. I just hope we stop called our movie industry Ghallywood. That's a kantenkarous name, for lack of a better word. Long live Ghanaian cinema, long live African cinema, long live Africa.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My favorite television show in Ghana - KSM's TGIF

Kwaku Sintim-Misa's Thank God It's Friday show is the best show in Ghana. I always try to catch that show everytime I am in Ghana. It's set like a talk show with a few other segments.

He sometimes interviews 'interesting', entrepreneurial Ghanaians. Late last year, he interviewed Eyram Akofa Tawia, founder of LETI games, who was profiled on this blog. I've seen interview some other Ghanaians who are doing very innovative things that many people did not know about. He also interviews major Ghanaian celebrities and statesmen.

Here he interviews Mordechai Kwaku Nyamekye, the youngest delegate ever at the UN (and best delegate in Ghana). He has a ball with which he explains the Millennium Development Goals, for those of you who didn't know.

Here, former president John Agyekum Kufuor talks about how he won the elections.

The 3 wise men serve as a think tank for TGIF. Here, they analyze 2008 election day falling on a sunday. Their thoughts, solutions, opinions

Kofi Wayo joins news anchor BK Oduro and Ato Kwamena Dadzie of the NokoFio party to take aim at the politicians.

He has his this "Not exactly da Nuz" segment hosted by BK Oduro (his alter ego). With this segment, they show interesting pictures taken in Accra and all over Ghana. The show is very entertaining.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sparrow Productions' A Sting In A Tale' - a discussion and review

"I don't believe in ghost stories, but I like this one". I could not hide my excitement when I heard that Sparrow Productions had a fourth movie out called 'A Sting In A Tale'. Following the success of Life and Living it, Scorned, and The Perfect Picture, I was hoping for the best. People had been complaining that Shirley Frimpong-Manso's movies were stories of romantic relationships amongst urban/rich class Ghanaians. So she decided to do something different, and I really appreciated this. The results have been mixed, more people thought "A Sting In A Tale" was the worst of her movies. Some loved the story, others just loved the end, others didn't like how the movie ended, etc, etc. I think this movie was great but not as good as the Perfect Picture. I think the first hour of the movie was superb and fantastic and then the 'quality' dropped off in the last hour. Let's dig deeper into the issues at play. Maybe we'll get the sting :-)

Unlike the first 3 movies, "A Sting In A Tale (ASIAT)" is set mostly in village or small town settings. It talks about the struggle of Ghanaian youth in earning a living. You know that much from the trailer. What you may not know is that the movie features ghosts. That is a territory people would have thought Shirley wouldn't venture into. We all complain about the superstition and African electronics in various African movies, so for Sparrow to have used such was a little baffling. I think Sparrow didn't develop that part of the story well enough, but maybe, that is the 'sting'. Like KSM said in this interview with Shirley, "the movie doesn't end until it's over". ASIAT also featured more local language lines and local language songs. Hey, we even heard two characters sing a Ga folksong.

The movie features a great cast, all of whom I think did a great job with their roles. I loved Abeiku Acquah's character (Rocker) the most, and I think Adjetey Anang (Kuuku) also did an admirable job. He surely was a 'ticking time-bomb'. I was eager to see how Majid Michel (Nii Ayi) would do in his first Sparrow feature and he excelled too. Other members of the cast included Lydia Forson (Frema), Joycelyn C Dumars (Esi), Doris Sackitey (Auntie Tamara), David Oscar (James) and a cameo from Shirley Frimpong-Manso herself. I'm not sure what category to put the movie in but some sections of it were surely funny, solemn, dramatic, etc.

One thing about great movies is that the scenes are memorable. I loved the 'monsi mpia' scene simply because this is something that happens in Ghana a lot and set up the struggles Nii Ayi and Kuuku were going to go through. "This is such bullshit". This was a story line throughout the early struggles, almost a soundtrack if you may. "We are looking for some people with some experience." "How are we supposed to get any experience if nobody is prepared to hire us? ... Oh, don't worry, we are getting on the next bus to Makola. I will be doing an outing for the koko seller, perhaps you will hire me after that". The movie still features some romantic relationships, but they are deeply affected by the struggles that Nii Ayi and Kuuku face.

I love the way they alternated between the scene where Frema was visited by her mother and the one where Nii Ayi and Kuuku met James. "How much?" --> "You're joking right?" --> "I'm not". Then after the guys were sharing the laugh, they moved to the next scene where Frema said "this is not funny". That scene ended with 'no', and the next scene with Nii Ayi, Kuuku and James started with 'yes'. See how James used two phones at the same time? I guess they were MTN and Zain lines. "You bring the greens, I get you the dreams". David Oscar is a one-time winner of best comedian at the Stars of the Future contest. "Have faith". "Faith? Isn't that the name of your landlady?" "We don't even have money to buy birthday presents for our girlfriends and you are going to look for 2500 dollars to buy a visa". Yankee! :-)

Like I said before, I loved Abeiku Acquah's character, Rocker. I guess he's who you may call a 'sakawa' man. Or maybe he's just entrepreneurial. "Stop working for the system, let the system work for you". "Remember what I tell you, I walk upright and proud in poverty, on the surface of wealth". You can't hate on him for trying to be entrepreneurial and taking the bull by the horns while Kuuku and Nii Ayi fruitlessly sought jobs. It showed the different avenues Ghanaian youth are taking in the bid to make it. Kuuku and Nii Ayi try to get green cards and the move fails, because they are 419ed. You can't make these things up, they happen. To put them in a movie is excellent as well.

"What if I told you guys I can make you drink beer at half-price? And still make money doing it". "Same shit, different day". "Believe me guys, this shit smells real good". "Some of us are eating!" :-) Nii Ayi and Kuuku wanted to 'borga', also seek greener pastures. "This is just great" -> "This is just terrible". "Have you tried his number?" "Who? James? Numbers!". How did we greet the news of the visa move bouncing? Yet another brilliant idea from Rocker. "And boom, we are making money, only literally".... "Lucky for you, I am in the mood for some pessimists like you". "Lucky for you, Rocafella, I am in the mood for killing some scammers today". And then the ticking time-bomb starts a fight. I think the fight was a bit overdone though. See how they were cheering the guy though, too freakin real. Lol.

I was just so excited to hear Sarkodie's Borga get played. At the time of shooting, the song was fresh and popular. When the visa move failed, what was the best signal for our twosome to move on and try other moves? What a perfect song to play! Now there was no use for the winter coat. Except for two poor young Ghanaian guys to use it as payment for a service. Mɔbɔ. How can I even forget the Michael Essien scene? Superb. There are too many young crooks in Ghana. If you needed any evidence the movie was Ghanaian (and not from some other country), this was the scene. I think it was a nice way to celebrate one of Ghana's most visible Black stars. I also love how they were speaking Pidgin and not English with the artist. "Bɔga, bɔga ɛna ɛyɛɛ dɛn!" When did Ghanaians start to say "Yes o!" Well, maybe since a couple of years ago, the Nigerian influence is here to stay. I liked how they switched between using Pidgin, Ghanaian language, and English lines.

I like how the "Looks like God came back into town" line tied in to the end of the 'struggle'. Reminded us of the initial conversation Kuuku and Nii Ayi had. "Is it that God is too busy or that He has found more exciting problems?" "No government, no God, just us against the world on some ship". Doesn't that feel like something a young unemployed Ghanaian would say? Everyone gets his first suit from the 'foes' line right? For those of you who don't know what 'foes' or 'broni waawu' clothes are, they refer to second-hand items imported into the country. "So that means that the coffee replaces the hausa koko". I won't hate on Hausa koko though, I will pay top-notch dollar for some right now. Pre-paid heart? Sounds good to me, till the next re-charge.

I loved the Citizen Kofi scene as well. Citizen Kofi is a relatively new hot spot in Accra and to feature it in the movie shows that we'll remember ASIAT for introducing us to it. I had been hearing about Citizen Kofi all of 2009 before I went to Ghana for the Christmas and when I saw the Citizen Kofi scene, it solidified the 'hype' about the place. I visited Citizen Kofi as well and will be blogging about it too. Ghana boys, y'all dey pass by some Ashawo joint before going to a club? Things that make you go hmmm. Too many Ghanaian movies are featuring club scenes these days, but at least the video and sound quality of those scenes are improving.

You'll realise most of my commentary centers around the first part of the movie. Like I said earlier, the first part of the movie was super. The movie went a little downhill with the introduction of the ghost. It looked like right timing given what was happening in the scene and what had just happened before, but I think it arrived too late in the movie. "Mini fio bo?" So why did one person make it and the other didn't? Are some of us just luckier than others? Some may not think so. Hard work pays. But a little luck cannot be underestimated. Or maybe karma actually works. Watch the movie and decide for yourself. :-)

"Why do you always have to be so mean?" "Why do you always have to be so broke?" I think Frema's mother played a very interesting role in the movie. She seemed well off, and her daughter was in bed with a young man who wasn't making it. The movie's story was almost a battle between her unwillingess to be patient and Kuu's struggles. Life is about options, taking advantage of opportunities, utilizing help that comes your way, etc. We see the various characters in the movie get presented with different options and choices, and then their decisions and the consequences of their actions.

A lot of movies use flashbacks. The first few scenes were finally continued at the end. The shocks may have been too much for viewers. I heard one of my favorite Presec words too: gbele. "Life, it's one unpredictable son of a bitch." And then the twists started coming fast and furious. Must have been the most packed 10 minutes of a Ghanaian movie ever. :-) Well, maybe not, but that's for you to see the movie and judge for yourself. Concerning the ghosts, the only people who could see the ghosts were those who were also ghosts or humans who could help them. Maybe this piece of information can help explain the last few scenes and ultimately, the sting in the tale.

"So, how does it end?". "I was thinking maybe you'd like to end it, add your own sting to the tale"I have said a bunch of times that you should watch the movie and judge for yourself. Some of you have seen the movie and described it as horrible, not as good as Sparrow's other productions, etc. I hope this review will throw another light on the movie and you can watch it (again). Watched some selected scenes. The feedback is great though, I am sure Shirley and her crew will listen and improve upon it for their next productions. I just think they are doing a fine job and like KSM said, "Ghanaian movies are back". It's quality we are looking for, championing excellence.

Photos from A Sting In A Tale website.

Borga - matters arising in Diasporean living and returning home

Yes, I'm back. Like they'll say in Ghana, wɔabɔga bio. Well, I've been back to Yankee for more than two weeks but this is my first post of the new decade. Had too much fun chillaxing and chilluping in Ghana to blog, so I saved most of my thoughts as texts on my Nokia phone. In fact, na Borga nso ayɛ loose to afford the costs of slow Ghanaian internet. It's not always easy for us Borgas. Even when we have 'returned' to Ghana on holidays to visit families and do other things, we find the costs of living not much different from 'Aburokyire'. Ghana's fastest and hottest rapper at the moment, Sarkodie knows this too. He composed a song about Ghanaians in the Diaspora and it is quickly becoming a cult classic. In fact, in the years to come, we shall all remember Sarkodie's Borga as one of the legendary hiplife songs. Let me tell you why.

Michael Owusu, known to many fans as Sarkodie, is a hiplife artist. He had spent the last few years freestyling and engaging in rap battles in Tema. Rumour has it that he never lost one. If you've watched Eminem's 8 Mile, Sarkodie has a similar story. He recorded various underground mixtapes and then eventually became widely known after featuring on Ayigbe Edem's Bougez (Ke va) song. His first music video, Babe (baby), featuring Mugeez of R2Bees catapulted him into the national spotlight. He's still been churning mixtapes, his 'Politics' track surfaced around the 2008 elections and quickly went viral. Today, he has been signed to Konvict SA, Akon's record label in Africa. Hiplife legend, Obrafour, featured him on one of his latest singles, Hiplife, as if to say, Sarkodie was to bear the torch for the genre in these times and beyond. With songs like Lay Away (ft Sway), Edey be (ft Paedae), Altar, and a monumental song like Borga, the sky is the limit for Sarkodie.

Borga is a name given to Ghanaians who are abroad or who've returned on holidays or for a short time. Since these people are usually held in high esteem, it's a nice title to have. Many families in Ghana look forward to Borgas' remittances. In fact, so far as you are a Borga, you are expected to release cash every now and then to folks back home. It matters not how or when or if you get the cash. Like the chorus of the song says, Borgas try to survive with the pay or salaries they get, working extra hours to make it some day. For some Borgas, the day never comes. They end up staying at one job for a lifetime and never return home as planned. Money is power, it can cloud your judgment and revise your dreams.

Because Borgas are held in high esteem, they sometimes seem to lord their esteem over Ghanaians back home, whether they are in Ghana or still at their bases. When proper research is done, one will find that many Borgas are indeed 'suffering' at their bases. They are clutching at straws to maintain 'flashy' lifestyles or be the breadwinners for their families. Here's where Sarkodie's song takes root. He asks, "Bɔga, bɔga ɛna ɛyɛɛ dɛn!" This is loosely translated as "You are a Borga, and so what?" The following part of the chorus describes a little conversation between Borgas. "Masa, na wobaa year bɛn; Me, mebaayɛ nkyɛɛyɛ, afei na mabɛdu nti obi nsoa me o na me kɔn mu rebu" - Master, which year did you come? Me, I haven't been here long, I just got here so someone should help me with this burden because it is too heavy".

Sarkodie describes different situations some Borgas are in. He states that someone may be in Canada and has to beg for what he eats. He goes on say, "You live and work in Ghana, at the very least, you have somewhere to sleep. You've collected money to get a visa, you want to travel to America just to suffer". And it's true. Go to the American embassy to see. It's called the African dream. The African dream is to seek greener (or pink) pastures abroad. It's not just in this common case of people using all they have just to get a taste of America, but you can also see it in the 'brain drain', seeking medical help abroad and other cases. "Aburokyire tumi ma ɔsɔfo nom jot; Ɔpɛ sɛ ɔtwitwa n'adwendwen so short" - Living abroad can make a pastor take up smoking; wanting to cut short his worries".

"Dɛn na ɛyɛ fɛ sɛ makɔdi holidays; na maba fie na mente obiaa case" A lot of Ghanaian students travel to the US, UK and other places during vacations. Many have the same goal, find a job, make some money, come back home and spend it. Or spend the money there, come back and let everyone know there have been changes in one's lifestyle. There is always a difference between the student who has 'borgaed' and the one who hasn't. The Borgas have this air around them. As for Sarkodie, he is not enthralled by the features of 'Aburokyire'. He rates fried rice over 'superghetti'.

Sarkodie's song has sparked various responses, mostly from Ghanaian artists based abroad who seem to argue that they are better off than Sarkodie, who is living in Ghana. One response from Fada & San is a direct remix to Sarkodie's Borga, pretty much calling his song, "boila" or rubbish. They state that they don't like the Ghana Cedi, but they like the dollar. "when you reach Miami, you will see that Accra is a village". They diss an Honourable Minister for becoming a photographer upon seeing Obama. They argue that toothpicks are not even made in Ghana. This line has been used for a long time, someone should please tell me someone in Ghana is making toothpicks in Ghana today. Fada & San chorus, "If you don't have money, shut up. We haven't been around for too long, but if you see our riches and possessions, you will be shocked." Except these things are probably on credit and there are outstanding bills to pay. Hey, fada & San have an admirable remix, but I'm sticking with Sarko on this one. :-)

Doing menial jobs abroad are ends to a means. Some people use the opportunity of traveling to set themselves up for better jobs and better standards of living for them and their families. You can't exactly walk into a well-paying and lucrative job in someone else's land. Even in Ghana, things are changing. Many Borgas are returning to Ghana for good. This is partly because of the economic crisis in the developed countries and the many lucrative and comfortable job opportunities being created in Ghana. Look around for the most successful, entrepreneurial and popular Ghanaians today, most of them live in Ghana. Granted, some of them may have lived abroad at some point, but many of them are really making their names by their exploits back home.

Sarkodie ends the song with a word of advice. "Nya ntoboaseɛ ma wo nnwom na ɛbɛben" - Have patience with your music and it shall be well. It's not all rosy abroad. We can all make it Ghana or wherever in Africa we find ourselves. We don't have to give up the little luxuries we enjoy to suffer in someone else's land before we 'can make it'. Sarkodie doesn't argue against travelling, he supports it. I agree with him. It's my wish many of us get the chance to travel and experience other cultures and places, it opens our eyes to different possibilities, ideas, attitudes and mannerisms. Being second-class citizens is not one of the wishes.

I was at BarCamp Ghana last December and one of the breakout sessions was about travel and development. I wasn't able to attend the whole session but I believe the conversation centered around how traveling abroad can change people's outlook and how a lot of Ghana's leaders of today seem to have the 'outside' experience. I fall into the category of Borgas, but I am in love with this song. In fact, I knew about the song before I went to Ghana last Christmas, but hearing it there made me love it more. When the song was played in Shirley Frimpong-Manso's "A Sting In A Tale", I was sold. Of course, Sarkodie's song is just one take on the whole Diasporean/Borga issue. The conversation must continue. We must make the most out of our travels, "African dream pursuits", etc.

Photo from

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