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The Fortune And Fury Behind Nollywood

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Nollywood

There is a slight nip in the air as the sun rises on the horizon and workers join the frenzied rush-hour traffic on the Third Mainland Bridge to Victoria Island. Crawling along the Falomo Bridge towards the mainland, I am joined by Kunle (not their real name), a former ringleader in Nigeria’s lucrative piracy industry. We are on our way to Alaba International Market, the largest electronics market in Nigeria and, incidentally, where it all began for Kunle.

“This is big business. At the top of the food chain is the Igbo movie producers and marketers who control the distribution of all the movies,” says Kunle.

Alaba is typical of most Nigerian markets. The place is heaving with sellers vying for every inch of space available on the streets, forcing people to walk in a straight line, like soldiers going to battle. The ‘area boys’, who are the unofficial tour guides of the market, expertly maneuver through teems of people, shouting frantically to get the attention of potential customers. We stop at Alake Enterprises, a rundown shack selling the latest Nollywood movies and gospel CDs.

“Madam, we get brand new movies, I beg [you to] come inside,” says one of the vendors.

As we enter the dilapidated building, a wall appears out of nowhere adorned with the latest cinema releases.

“There are two types of movies here. Those at the front of the shop are the legal ones, which have been released in the cinema and have now made their way to DVD. What you are seeing at the back are the ones that are currently in the cinema and some that are yet to show,” says Kunle.

Alaba Market (Photo by Andrew Esiebo/Aljazeera America)

Hiring more than a million people, Nollywood is the country’s second largest employer, according to a United Nations report. The ability of film crews, using guerilla filmmaking, to shoot a full-length feature in a week, has made Nollywood a powerhouse in the world of movies.

The National Bureau for Statistics (NBS) estimates that the Nigerian film industry contributed about 1.4% to the GDP in 2013 and 2014, and employed over 250,000 people directly. According to the World Bank, Nollywood produces up to 50 films a week, surpassing Hollywood in volume. Subsequently, the rise in copyright crimes in the country grows alongside the Nollywood industry.

“A couple of years ago Kunle Afolayan’s movie, October 1, was pirated and sold on the streets for less than $3 before the movie’s premiere in the cinema. He spent $2 million producing that movie. Now tell me, how was he going to make his money back? How many cinemas do we have in the country to help him recoup that amount?” says Bose Oshin, Head of Productions at GAME Productions.

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The incident almost led to the writer and director boycotting Nigeria for good. In 2014, a week after the release of Half of a Yellow Sun, a film adaptation of the award-winning novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, film vendors were hawking pirated copies of the film in Lagos. According to Oshin, you can’t fix the problem without understanding why there is a leak in the supply chain cycle.

“Before a movie shows, they need to send a copy to the cinemas where it will make its debut. The pirates pay the workers in the cinema a lump sum of N1 million ($2,790) to steal the copy. For these culprits, this is more money than they would earn in a year, so the temptation is quite high,” says Oshin.

Kofi Ansah, an emerging Ghanaian movie producer looking to have a piece of the lucrative Nollywood pie, experienced this in what he calls his worst day in business.

“I literally used all my savings to shoot this movie and managed to secure some top stars from Nigeria. We were two weeks away from the movie premiere when I got a call from someone saying they had a copy of my movie and I should pay N5 million ($13,950) to prevent its release on the streets for one month. It was as if someone had just shot me in the stomach. We barely had enough to do our promotion and now we were being blackmailed by these thugs,” says Ansah.

He believes the leak was orchestrated by competing producers who do not want any new names to enter the hugely competitive, and often fickle, world of Nigerian cinema.

“We all use the same production crews so it is easy to get your hands on footage. I couldn’t afford to make the payment, so the movie was on the street before we could even do the premier and we lost all our investment. I ended up having to take the movie to other parts of Africa to try to recoup some of the money,” says Ansah.

Nollywood movies for sale in a market (Photo by Andrew Esiebo/Aljazeera America)

In the belly of the beast lies an ongoing war between the ‘New Nollywood’ producers and traditional ‘Asaba’ producers.

“New Nollywood does not make any money. They have the fame, the glitz and the glamour, and they do lavish launches in cinemas, but nobody goes to the cinema to watch a Nollywood production when Captain America is showing. Asaba, or old Nollywood, is where the money is made. Movies are shot on tight production schedules, usually about a week, and then the same movie is broken down into several sequels from part one to sometimes part 16,” says Kunle.

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Asaba movies are for the masses. Storylines are simple, humorous, and movies are mostly shot in the local dialect. The top actors in this sector are in such high demand that they sometimes shoot up to 10 movies a week, jumping from one set to the other.

“As soon as the marketers hear that a New Nollywood movie is about to hit the cinema, the whole gang is on high alert. Once the inside person is paid, and we get a copy of the video, we begin mass-production. Sometimes as many as 20 million copies are created and immediately moved by trucks to Onitsha, Aba, Alaba and Idumota, where agents are there to pick up and distribute to a network of street hawkers and shops in those areas,” says Kunle.

The mass production provides economies of scale, with DVDs as cheap as N100 ($0.30). Contrast this with the N3,000 ($8.30) for a cinema screening and it’s obvious why piracy thrives in Nigeria.

“This is simply a case of supply and demand. The demand is there because people want to watch the same movies that are shown in the cinema for a fraction of the cost, and so long as that demand exists, these pirates will always be in business and that is the unfortunate truth,” says Oshin.
To combat piracy, the Nigerian government established Project ACT Nollywood, with a N3 billion ($8 million) grant. In a press statement, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, says the proper distribution of movies is important if Nigeria is to win the fight.

But Ansah says it’s not that simple.

“Like any criminal organization, there are those at the top who make the real money and make all the moves. These people have a strong network and they work with the copyright owners or those who have been officially contracted to produce the legitimate DVDs of the new movies, so they have direct access to the source thereby hijacking the market,” he says.

“Piracy works with informal networks and to be honest, there is really no fear of punishment because you hardly hear of anybody who has been arrested on the grounds of video piracy. That is where the law needs to act. Instill a fear of imprisonment and people will behave accordingly.”

But this suggestion may be flawed.

“We have informants in the law enforcement agencies that give us a heads-up so we know all the plans they are making, which means we have enough time to react,” says Kunle.

For now, the clandestine networks continue to grow and as long as they have an insatiable audience looking for the lowest prices for the latest cinematic releases, it is unlikely that piracy in Africa’s largest movie industry will end.

Life

Kingdom Calling At The Bushfire Festival

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It’s an early morning in May and as the sun rises, red, orange and yellow hues bathe the swaying sugarcane fields of Malkerns, a small town in the landlocked southern African country of Swaziland.

Swaziland, renamed ‘the kingdom of eSwatini’ in April this year on its 50th birthday, awakens to the sounds of the rustling wind and chirping birds. Very soon, these natural notes will be replaced by the cacophony and camaraderie of thousands of guests jetting into the country for the annual Bushfire Festival, a three-day fiesta of art, culture, music and food in the last week of May.

It’s a busy time of the year for a kingdom that is one of the world’s last remaining monarchies.

Within the Bushfire Festival arena, djembe drums beat to the rhythm of the heartbeat of Africa. Revelers indulge in traditional feasts at the food markets as the musicians take center-stage.

The likes of South Africa’s Samthing Soweto, Brazil’s Flavia Coelho, Nigeria’s Yemi Alade and Mali’s Salif Keita are present, offering a profusion of sounds and melodies.

In the camping arena is a confluence of cultures, as over 29,000 guests who have traveled here to attend the festival make new friends and form unlikely collaborations.

Many stop to admire a hand-crafted grass hat worn by a young woman who has traveled from Lesotho. Anna Thai is originally from Memphis, Tennessee, in the United States.

“The people here are very relaxed and accepting of each other. There are so many from different countries, so many languages and so many different faces and I really enjoy the diversity of it,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

What started as a cultural meet around a small amphitheater, where artistes performed in front of a crowd of no more than a hundred, is today one of Africa’s most talked-about festivals.

 

Swazi-born Jiggs Thorne. Photo by Karen Mwendera.

“We started off as kind of a charity running a business and very quickly learned that it needed to be a business running a charity.” – Jiggs Thorne

Swaziland-born Jiggs Thorne, the founder and director of the festival, always had a passion for the arts, but admits he had to learn the business aspect of the festival the hard way.

“The important thing is I never studied to become a festival director and that’s the thing with entrepreneurs, you are driven by passion; the kind of passion that gets you up and creates that drive you need to make something work. And you have to be incessant,” Thorne tells us.

Born in Manzini, he was inspired by his parents who owned a restaurant. He went on to pursue a degree in drama and politics at the University of Natal in South Africa.

In 1994, when he finished his degree, he decided to return to his home country and apply his passion for the arts. Thorne wanted to develop the local arts scene.

In 2000, he set up House On Fire, the eclectic venue where the festival is now held.

However, its business model wasn’t sustainable, and Thorne realized that if he didn’t act quickly, his dream would slowly fade away.

“Well, I was very much an artiste and I think I’ve become entrepreneurial along the way and we started off as kind of a charity running a business and very quickly learned that it needed to be a business running a charity,” he says.

The Bushfire Festival came into being.

“It was always about a positive light, warmth, about celebrating diversity,” he says.

A majority of the funding came from sponsorships, and partnerships – the festival is called MTN Bushfire.

With his brother Shelton, Thorne fine-tuned the business model to keep its mandate as a creative arts platform and business at the same time. As Thorne came from an arts background, he had to depend on others to make his dream work.

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“There needs to be integrity in the way in which you deal with people so I think that’s kind of paramount in this equation where you are dependent on others to make it happen,” says the 48-year-old father of two.

The festival grew beyond what Thorne had imagined, he says, contributing over E50 million ($3.7 million) to Swaziland’s economy.

“When the king travels overseas, people ask him about Bushfire, you know. So it’s quite a surreal thing that the concept that came up all those years ago in a sense has become owned by others,” laughs Thorne.

This year, the local newspapers, radio stations and social media were abuzz with news on the festival.

Thorne owes its success to his team and his parents who left the legacy for him and the family to build on.

“It was kind of the fire they started and it’s a light that we’ve been able to follow. They are the legacy, says Thorne, who runs the festival with his siblings and extended family.

“Entrepreneurship is something that you don’t really study, you learn, and it’s something that takes over, and it’s kind of all-encompassing,” he signs off.

After the curtains come down on the festival, it’s back to the idyllic sights and sounds of Swaziland, until next year, when the little town of Malkerns will fire up again.

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Life

Challenging Social Norms Through Body Art

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Imagine a pinup calendar that revisits history through color, and woven in a manner that depicts your past and future in an amusing way. Confused?

Well that is what the future looks like for South African performing artist Athi-Patra Ruga, known for his flamboyant performances and tapestries that challenge social norms.

Growing up in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, Ruga knew at a young age he would become an artist, taking lessons, after school, at Belgravia Art Centre. He then received a scholarship to the Gordon Flack Davidson Academy of Design in Johannesburg.

“I had always known my body would be a site for telling stories. I feel the drive to tell stories, [I] overcame my fears – about it never been done before,” he says.

When he cut his teeth in art, he dabbled in fashion designing, incorporating fashion and art into one.

“Fashion has the power to dictate our movements physically and socially, to [a] great consequence. I have never seen it as a huge leap as both those mediums are concerned with the body,” says Ruga.

His current body of work is Queens in Exile, addressing issues of belonging and identity. However, it is his piece on the queens of Azania that put him on the cultural map.

“I feel it sparked something in the audience that [binds] our generation together. Witnessing the betrayal to the constitution I was raised with and also rainbowism, a utopian construct, played out in the country that is economically the most unequal in the world,” says Ruga.

Ruga was the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year in 2015 and has done work for luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton. Believing the world is alive with possibilities, he held on to the hope he would one day travel the world.

“I had always dreamt of going to the south of France and now for the past five years, my husband and I have been going to Toulon for the Hyères festival,” says Ruga.

The Eastern Cape has produced some of South Africa’s great political leaders, from Nelson Mandela to Steve Biko, so it is little wonder Ruga’s work has strong historical references.

“History has the ability to arm us as a dispossessed youth, with knowledge that our forefathers went through the same things we are going through and we need that knowledge to arm us to find sophisticated ways of mobilizing for economic and cultural currency,” says Ruga.

He desensitizes “uncomfortable” topics using vibrant colors. His work is represented by the WHATIFTHEWORLD gallery in Cape Town, and in Paris, by InSitu Fabienne Leclerc.

There is also a lot of story-telling in his work which comes from his father being a journalist.

“I come from a family of people who enjoyed telling stories and I gravitate to that tradition of storytelling in my art,” says Ruga.

His industry is faced with numerous challenges, but Ruga chose early on in his career to not focus on the negative.

“I’m honestly not concerned with focusing on challenges, that’s not how I got here. It is the attitude that defines how I will overcome that is ultimate. Our education system is something we all need to face and improve as that leads one to art and in return empathy for others,” he says.

Ruga encourages upcoming artists to venture into different spheres such as photography, art and designing as they are lucrative.

He says there are more than enough role models across the continent one could look up to such as Nicholas Hlobo, a South African contemporary artist who creates sculptures and explores ethnicity, masculinity, and sexual identity. He too looks up to him.

Despite the global exposure and success at home, Ruga is convinced the best is yet to come.

“I always feel my big break hasn’t happened yet,” he says. That will be a story for another time.

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Entrepreneurs

Making of the July Forbes Africa cover with Gbenga Oyebode

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The July cover of the prestigious Forbes Africa magazine features Gbenga Oyebode, of Aluko and Oyebode, one of the largest integrated law firms in Nigeria with over 70 lawyers and three offices in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. The Firm provides a comprehensive range of specialist legal services to a highly diversified clientele including top-tier Nigerian, international and multinational clients.

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