Film: New Voices in Black Cinema at BAM

Watch previews for our choice picks at BAM's 'New Voices in Black Cinema' film festival.

Brooklyn film festival New Voices in Black Cinema is back for its third year with an impressive lineup of films we've been hankering to see. BAM has teamed up with the Act Now Foundation to bring black independent film to Brooklyn audiences. Running from Friday 15th - Monday 18th February, this year's program boasts 10 New York premieres, blending African and African-American film offerings without allowing either to dominate.

Right off the back of Sundance, which did well by black independent film this year (a record number of African-directed and African-themed films; Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale taking both The Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award and Egyptian-American Jehane Noujaim's The Square taking the Audience Award in the documentary category) the New Voices in Black Cinema programme foregrounds new voices. Hook yourself up with tickets and see the five we're most excited to see.

1. Aujourd'hui | dir. Alain Gomis

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Aujourd'hui (Tey) has done its rounds of the international festivals picking up award nominations as it went (taking the Special Jury Prize at Carthage Film Festival) and wowing critics who appreciate its quiet slow-burning sensibility.  This is French-Senegalese director Alain Gomis' third feature and stars spoken-word artist, musician and Africa in Your Earbuds contributor, Saul Williams who will also do a Q&A and performance at BAM. Aujourd'hui (Tey) screens on Saturday 16th Feb at 6pm.

2. alaskaLand | dir. Chinonye Chukwu

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Chukwuma is the protagonist of director Chinonye Chukwu's alaskaLand, and like the director, he was was born in Nigeria and raised in Alaska. Questions of migrant identity are central to this family drama which, while not autobiographical, aims to tell a story true to the filmmaker's experience and provide "a layered homage to the cultures and environment that have informed who I am." The trailer suggests that the film will deepen the sometimes shallow conversation around African-in-the-U.S identities, especially as they pertain to class and history. alaskaLand screens on Sunday 17th Feb at 4pm.

3. High Chicago | dir. Alfons Adetuyi (2011)

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If you missed the premiere of Nigerian-American Alfons Adetuyi's High Chicago at PAFF last year then this is your chance to catch it. The main character is inspired by the director's father (the script was written by his brother who took narration from his mother), a Nigerian migrant in the U.S. In the film itself, the father Sam — played by British actor Colin Salmon — is an African-American former Navy man and miner who has a drinking habit and loves to gamble. Perhaps it's for this reason that the specificity of Nigeria gives way to the more abstract dream of 'Africa' in the trailer at least. This looks like solid, high-stakes drama, of interest to those thinking about how Africa is situated in the African-American imagination. High Chicago screens on Saturday 16th Feb at 3pm.

4. 18 Ius Soli | dir. Fred Kuwornu

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18 Ius Soli is a 50 minute intrrogation of Italian citizenship law, and promises insight into why those chants "a Negro can never be an Italian" hurled at striker Mario Balotelli, cut so deep. Currently Italy, like Germany and Eastern Europe, operates under Jus Sanguinis, which means that even if you were born in Italy, you can only gain citizenship if you prove that your parents or grandparents were/are Italian citizens. Afro-Italian director Fred Kuwornu calls for a Italy to turn to the Ius Soli (right of the soil) model, in which citizenship is based on birth-country. The film touches on the fraught questions of citizenship and migration to Europe while taking care to document the material and emotional impacts of these laws on individual lives. 18 Ius Soli screens on Friday 15th Feb at 1:30pm.

5. The United States of Hoodoo | dir. Oliver Hardt (2012)

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In line with the diasporic theme of the festival, The United States of Hoodoo explores the legacies of African culture brought to U.S. shores by enslaved Africans during the transatlantic slave trade, and altered by centuries of indigenization.  Oliver Hardt's documentary takes us from New York to the Mississippi Delta, through New Orleans and to Louisiana in the form of a cinematic road-trip to open up often-vilified aspects of U.S. culture. As one interviewee notes, "generations prior to ours have been taught that anything associated with Africa was bad." The United States of Hoodoo screens on Saturday 16th Feb at 12pm.


6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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