What Not to Miss at The 20th New York African Film Festival

Previews Nairobi Half Life, Dolce Vita Africana, Burn it Up Djassa & Fuelling Poverty at the 20th New York African Film Festival

For the 20th consecutive year, the venerable and groundbreaking New York African Film Festival is opening its doors, and as usual there's a ton of goodness worth seeing. Between 3rd-9th April, a total of 14 films will be screened; under the theme 'Looking Back, Looking Forward' the newest of the new will screen alongside vintage films like Ousmane Sembene's Guelwaar, Moussa Touré's TGV and Abderrahmane Sissako's La Vie sur Terre. We've already previewed Chinonye Chukwu's (initially promising but ultimately melodramatic) Alaskaland, reviewed Frances Bodomo's brilliant short Boneshaker and expressed our excitement over Touissaint l’Ouverture. Check the full programme and browse our previews of some of the newest offerings.

1. Nairobi Half Life (2012) | dir. David Tosh Gitonga 

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When it was released last year Nairobi Half Life caused a stir because of the alleged 'gay kissing scene' (it's actually a peck on the cheek followed by a failed kiss). David Tosh Gitonga's debut feature picked up a Best Actor award at the Durban Film Festival, and he's said that 'it's about time' that Kenyan film explored queer identities in something other than 'a negative light'. By the looks of the trailer, Nairobi Half Life looks like a classic smalltown boy in the big city flick, as the lead, an aspiring actor, moves to Nairobi to start a new life and quickly discovers the meaning of the capital's nickname 'Nairobbery'.

Thursday 4th April @ 8:15pm and Sunday 7th April @ 8pm more

2. Dolce Vita Africana (2008) | dir. Cosima Spender + Q+A  U.S. premiere 

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Grandaughter of Arshile Gorky, director Cosima Spender travelled to Mali to film Dolce Vita Africana, her 60-minute documentary on one of the grandfathers of west African photography, Malick Sidibe. His photographs of young, stylish west Africans found a second life in the 1990s when the west caught on to his and Seydou Keita's brilliance. It'll be interesting to see whether Spender's doc broaches the fraught power dynamics which continue to underscore the Western/West African art relationship, but whether it does or doesn't, it's worth seeing Sidibe's captivating images on a big screen.

Thursday 4th April @ 6pm + Tuesday 9th April @ 4pm more

3. Death for Sale (2011) | dir. Faouzi Bensaidi + Q&A

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Set in Tetouan, in the north of Morocco, Death for Sale is a film noir/heist-gone-awry movie that follows three characters through the streets of Tetouan, a port city in the north of Morocco. Last year it was tipped as an Oscar favourite, and though some reviews have been tepidVariety noted that it's at the very least a good-looking movie: 'the alluring, technically rigorous craft package has Euro polish.' European and polish apparently synonymous when it comes to European film. That said, Bensaidi's film promises to grapple with problems that are ever-more prevalent given the ongoing global financial crisis: poverty, disaffection, unemployment.

Saturday 6th April @ 6pm (for Q&A) + Tuesday 9th April @ 1:30pm more

4. Burn it up Djassa (2012) | dir. Lonesome Solo (Bamba Souleymane)

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Lonesome Solo's Burn it Up Djassa is perhaps the one film we're most excited to see at the festival, given its reputation as herald of a new Ivorian artistic movement. Shot in the Abidjan neighbourhood of Wassakara a few months before the Ivorian civil war broke out, the film is performed by a collective of actors from Wassakara, together with writers and a production team that hail from the same neighbourhood, they've created a vérité-style fiction that resonates with their daily experience.

Saturday 6th April @ 9pm more

5. Fueling Poverty (2012) | dir. Ishaya Bako + Q&A

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If you love the sound of Wole Soyinka's voice this film will be instantly compelling. It opens at a leisurely pace with Kongi telling us the story of Nigeria, and quickly gains momentum and develops into a snappy 30 minute takedown of the government's mismanagement of Nigeria's oil wealth which was the source of protests across Nigeria at the start of 2012.

Saturday 6th April @ 3:30pm more



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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