Film

Film: 'Mama Africa' An Unforgettable Portrait Of Miriam Makeba

This African film highlights Miriam Makeba (1932-2008), the world-famous South African artist and civil right activist.

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Okayafrica is teaming up with the 19th New York African Film Festival to co-present the opening night of Mama Africa (Germany, 2011) Weds April 11th at 7:15pm at the Walter Reade Theater (or buy tickets here), and read our review of the film below.

Short synopsis/presentation:

An unforgettable portrait of Miriam Makeba (1932-2008), the world-famous South African artist and civil right activist, who devoted her life to promoting peace and justice and fighting racism around the planet. A figurehead of the Black African movement in exile, her music and daily practice incarnated the hopes and fears of Africa through the convulsive 20th century, so that she has come to be considered the voice and mother of the Continent.

Critic:

Finnish filmmaker Mika Kaurismäki continues to devote himself to bringing to light music and protagonists misrepresented and misunderstood by the West. His personal homage to Miriam Makeba comes after decades of intimate engagement with underground cultures in Brazil, culminating in Brasileirinho (2005) a musical documentary that rends tribute to Choro, the first genuinely Brazilian urban music. Now, in Mama Africa, Kaurismäki rhythmically blends interviews with archival footage of live performances and historical events to guide us through a life dedicated to the fight for recognition and human rights on the African Continent.

After her early years of singing in the dance halls of Cape Town and a racially divided Johannesburg, first in the all-girl band The Skylarks and after in more professional jazz bands, Miriam Makeba appeared in Lionel Rogosin’s milestone neorealist and anti-apartheid film “Come Back, Africa” (1959, trailer below). This event changed her life: a year after leaving to present the film in Venice, she was stripped of her South African citizenship and barred from returning home until near the end of her days, passing 27 years in forced exile. Her first stop was the United States, where Harry Belafonte helped launch her career and transformed her into an artist of international scope. First in America, then later in Guinea Conakry, where she was compelled to live due to rejection from the US music industry and pressure from the FBI due to her marriage to Black Panther activist Stokely Carmichael, her performances and lyrics became a rallying cry in the struggle for the oppressed. In 1963 she became the first black woman to speak at the United Nations, and was known thereafter as “Mama Africa”. Never giving up on her audience, she remained on stage until the very end, and died after giving a concert while on tour in Italy in 2008.

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If there is anything missing in the film, it is the presence of Miriam Makeba herself. The inspiration of the film came from co-screenwriter and co-producer Don Edkins, who was developing the concept with the star when she died. From that point, the idea of structuring the film on Makeba’s memories and opinions had to be forgotten, and the director was forced to rely on archival footage and interviews with important people in her life. The director has, however, used this to his advantage. Since her early years in Johannesburg townships, Makeba was associated with such key figures as singers Dorothy Masuka and Abigail Kubeka and trumpeter and first husband Hugh Masekela, and this tendency was magnified through the rest of her life; textured interviews with these and others of her peers, as well as the director’s own footage from Conakry, give a rich insight into the motivations that informed her personal and professional life.

Hamstrung by legal and economic difficulties in his attempts to acquire footage of Makeba herself, Kaurismäki has opted instead to highlight the iconic voices that surrounded her: thus, great attention is paid to her relationships with Stokely Carmichael, Harry Belafonte, and Jean-Marie Dore, former prime minister of Guinea, among others. In this way, the documentary makes tribute to a time and its people, without passing over the heartache that accompanied Makeba from childhood and reached its zenith in the death, at 35 years old, of her daughter and her companion Bongi. A gifted singer and songwriter responsible for many of her mother’s most memorable hits, she would likely have been Makeba’s successor, had fate not cut her life short. The film’s testament to her talent is one of its most touching episodes.

Makeba, a devoted woman, a unique singer and a mother of a continent, resonates today through her activism and art, through the musical accomplishments of her disciples and family members, especially those of her granddaughter, the superstar Benin Angelique Kidjo, who is one of the documentary’s most powerful and lucid voices.

Her staunchest fans may long for more appearances by Makeba onstage or more songs, but the filmmaker, by recurring to a handful of key songs, has managed  skillfully to transmit her generous personality and dramatic life without lapsing into idolatry.  The mandatory inclusion of “Pata Pata” does not preclude Makeba’s qualifying comment:  “…with no meaning at all about a dance called pata pata.  I would have preferred another song to be popular.”  Bittersweet irony, a constant in the life of a woman, an artist, a continent…

Learn more about Miriam Makeba at the New York African Film Festival!

Photos

This Is What Rotimi's 'Walk With Me' EP Listening Party Looked Like

The Nigerian singer held an intimate listening party on the eve of the release of his new EP, 'Walk With Me,' at Brooklyn's Okay Space.

Walk With Me, Rotimi's new and highly anticipated EP, dropped Friday—giving us a seven-track peek into who the singer and actor truly is sonically.

The night before, the Nigerian-American crooner gathered over 100 tastemakers and day-one supporters to Brooklyn's Okay Space—the shared gallery space between Okayplayer and OkayAfrica—for an intimate listening party celebrating the release, as well as his music video for "Love Riddim" which also dropped this week.

The night was simply a vibe—folks enjoyed libations and bites from The Suya Guy, with sounds by DJ Tunez. Rotimi opened the gathering up with a thoughtful prayer, with the music video reveal to follow. The singer then walked the audience through each track from Walk With Me, opening up about the creative process of how each track came to life.

Following, Rotimi engaged in an even more in-depth Q+A session with OkayAfrica's arts and culture editor, Antoinette Isama, where he touched on his experience touring with Wizkid back in 2011, his thoughts on the continued rise in popularity afrobeats is having in mainstream music, his hopes for the future and more. Tunez then ran the EP back when the party ensued, as the project is full of tracks that are worthy of being on repeat.

Listen to Walk With Me below, and be sure to take a look at photos from the listening party by Nerdscarf Photography.

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Film
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 16: Director Ladj Ly and Almamy Kanoute attend the photocall for "Les Miserables" during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

How To Survive Cannes Film Festival As a Black Filmmaker

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind.

Cannes Film Festival is one of the world's most prestigious gatherings bringing celebrities, filmmakers and actors claiming to celebrate the world's best film. Although the festival is way behind Sundance or the London Film Festival regarding diversity efforts, it remains the place to be if you're a filmmaker—especially a Black one.

I, myself, am a Black French filmmaker who was invited to Cannes as part of their scheme for young film lovers—3 Days in Cannes—open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 28. The scheme, which launched in 2018, requires young hopefuls to write a cover letter showing their passion for film. It ultimately gives young people the opportunity to discover the international selection of films showed at Cannes.

READ: Black Women Are the Future of French Cinema—When Will Cannes Catch Up?

Being in Cannes for the first time was a wonderful experience, but it can be tough to navigate as a Black filmmaker if you're not prepared for it. So, here are top tips.

1) Don't be a person of color—especially if you're Black (Just kidding. But still.)

Cannes is a beautiful, posh city in the south of France. It is part of the Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur, an administrative region where the far right party Rassemblement National (formally known as the National Front) hits record-breaking highs. Despite the fact that the festival is incredibly international, at times it can feel pretty racist, like a sunny, idyllic version of 1960s Alabama, where a party of more than one Black person gets routinely rejected from some clubs/bars/restaurants. On top of that, the staff and some of the security working at the festival can be incredibly aggressive and rude to you and in French. If you don't understand it, it's even more confusing.

To avoid it, try to stick to the official Cannes parties, or hang out in international hotels like the Miramar or the Radisson Blu Hotel—which are used to an international crowd. You can also stick to parties at the various country pavilions near the Film Market.

2) Stick to the African Pavilion

At the festival, most countries have their own pavilion. But because the festival believes Africa is a country, all 54 countries are gathered in one pavilion. This pavilion also includes the Caribbean, since Jamaica, as life would have it, is also an African country. In the African Pavilion, there was even talk on how to submit films if you're a filmmaker of Indian descent (despite the fact that India had its own pavilion).

You're not African? That's okay, no one cares. Pan-Africanism is still alive, I guess? Thankfully, out of the many pavilions, I did find the African Pavilion was the best one the most welcoming and whose schedule was the most open and clear. Because Cannes is such an exclusive festival, most of the parties and talks won't be communicated outside of those who are supposed to attend.

The African Pavilion, however, requires you to sign up to their newsletter. You then access their app where you can see the schedule, the talks to attend and the party they planned. The only downside is that they were understaffed, so some talks and events were cancelled last minute and with limited communication.

If you're a Black French filmmaker, speaking English is a must to get the most out of the pavilion. If you're an English-speaking filmmaker, try to make friends or meet people who speak French, as some of the talks/discussions might not have professional interpreters.

Also, go to the events organized by diversity in Cannes. Now, if you're a Black filmmaker who would rather not stay in the community for fear of being pigeonholed? Unless you're part of a talent scheme run by the festival...good luck getting others to support you.

3) Be ready to WAIT to see films and to party

On average, I waited 1 hour 40 minutes for each film I wanted to see in the official selection program. And I purposely chose not to see the famous ones like the Pedro Almodóvar or Quintin Tarantino's films. I also waited almost two hours to see a film from the Un certain regard selection and didn't get in—despite my pass. Now, Un certain regard has the most highly sought after films, even more so than the Competition, because they tend to select the best among indie international films. To get in for sure, you need a "Un certain regard" pass, so they need to invite you themselves. Even if you have a ticket at the counter, you might not get in unless you wait two hours (standing) or choose to attend the early screening or the late ones (and still, you should be ready to wait 1 hour for these).

You need a pass AND a ticket to see the films from the official selection and walk the red carpet up to the Grand Théatre Debussy. For the ACID, Director's fortnight, Semaine de la critique, and the Official selection's films not shown on the red carpet, you just need a pass—and to be ready to queue for at least 45 minutes.

I wouldn't recommend getting the Cannes cinephile pass as it has a low priority. I saw people waiting 2 hours to see a film and not getting in, while people with professional Black passes arriving 10 minutes before the screening walking past them. Because the Cannes festival is for professionals, they have, unfortunately, priority over members of the public.

Now, with the parties at Cannes, word on the street is that they are not as legendary as they used to be. Even if you get invited to one, you still need to wait an hour. It's not because they are over capacity, but rather they feel the need to pretend that they are. Unless you're a VVIP. And if you're one, why are you reading my article?

Anyway, despite not being as glamorous as they used to be, they remain so exclusive that if your name is not on the list, you might need to sell your first born to attend.

Thankfully, you can avoid it by being smart. When I arrived in Cannes, I was dead set on going to parties to network. Since almost all of them are invite only, I went to the parties at the pavilions, like the UK one, the American one (which costs 20 euros because Americans are always about their money) and the African Pavilion—that were kind enough to facilitate networking by introducing me to fellow filmmakers. God knows how talking to strangers and building new relationships can be difficult, and they made it easier.

4) Make friends with distributors or people working for the Mayor's office

The whole point of the festival is to sell films. Tickets are sparse for most people, so some badge holders wear their Sunday Best and stand outside the grand theater, holding signs asking for tickets. It makes sense that distributors are incredibly powerful, since they have the power to buy and sell films internationally. They are given way too many tickets that should be given to people waiting for hours outside.

So, if you make friends with distributors, they will always have a handful of spare tickets, even for the big ones that everyone wants to see. They also have tickets for the big parties as well. Press badge holders also have priority since they are responsible for a film good or bad media coverage. So they have a handful of tickets too.

People working for the Mayor's office also have tickets because they work closely together since the festival brings so much revenue to the city. Make friends with them, as well as film students and you'll get tickets. Don't know where to find them? Social media is your friend.

There is also another way to get tickets to films: the staff. For example, I couldn't get tickets to see Mati Diop's Atlantiques. I walked to the ticket counter and saw a Black woman with a great hairstyle. My instinct KNEW I had to tag along. I asked her if she needed help. She was looking for the same tickets. We asked someone at the ticket office if they could help. They said they had nothing. But one of the staff members saw us and said she could try to help us. She came back with two tickets and that's how I got to see the film. I got lucky and was cunning. So be nice with the staff, they can help.

5) Be ready for anything

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind. Since you're spending so much time waiting and walking from venues to venues, you won't have time to eat unless you bring food you've made before hand. You're not allowed to eat inside the theaters and if you walk the red carpet, you food is thrown out beforehand. You can try buying food and drinks in the morning and finish it by the time you walk the red carpet. I'd advise buying it at a supermarket like the pricey Monoprix. Or the nearby McDonald's. It's cheap, warm, almost always open and a great way to socialize! Young filmmakers, as well as those from Britain and the States will come to McDonald's to eat since it's one of the places they know best. Why not strike up a convo there?

Also, don't forget your power bank. Your phone will get out of battery for sure, especially if you post content on social media.

Finally, despite its reputation, the festival is incredibly badly organized. You will be told that your badge is not allowed to watch films at other selections, or you would be given the wrong directions and will be lost in the croisette on your way to see an obscure film.

Chill, be ready to walk and use Google Maps. And enjoy!

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Julie Adenuga: "There Are Young Artists In Nigeria Who Are Changing the World"

In an exclusive interview, the Beats 1 radio presenter opens up about her Nigerian heritage, documenting Homecoming in Lagos, and London being an important hub for afro-fusion sounds.

Julie Adenuga sits at the intersection of two continents.

As an affable tastemaker who transforms banal interviews into engaging conversations with some of the most famous artists in the world, Julie is leading the global dialogue on new music from her daily radio show, which broadcasts to over 100 countries.

The North London native of Nigerian descent hails from a musical family, her brothers are artists Skepta and JME, and has risen from the underground as a self-taught presenter on former pirate radio station Rinse FM to being one of three lead DJ's with her Beats 1 show on Apple Music.

A champion of homegrown talent in the UK and across the African diaspora, Julie is a purveyor of the afro-fusion genre, as is evident in her recent Homecoming documentary, which captured the fresh innovators from the Lagos music scene, and her DON't @ ME club nights, which has featured Ghetts, Lady Leshurr and The Compozers as residents.

Chosen as one of OkayAfrica's 100 Women celebrating extraordinary women from Africa and the diaspora, we speak with the presenter and broadcaster on owning her Nigerian identity, the responsibility of spreading afrobeats and why London is a key location for the genre.

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