Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mainstreaming Hausa

I had a conversation earlier today with a few friends about Hausa representation in Dare Art-Alade's new video for "Ba Ni Kidi."

My friend took issue with Dare's "weird" Hausa (the title is grammatically incorrect, he thinks), but I'm more concerned about the circus, the monkey, the magic... it just felt a bit too Aladdin's Genie for me. It is almost like the singer forgot the song was in Hausa, and decided to go Arabian Nights route instead.

I only mean to make an observation -- and not pick on Dare Art-Alade -- when I say that this video has me thinking about Hausa people and their place in Nigeria's mainstream culture. The only thing even remotely Hausa about me is my name, but it's worth lending a thought to the representation of the Hausa -- or lack thereof -- in Nigerian pop culture. And no, I don't mean somebody saying "Nagode Jesu" in church songs, or Style Plus singing a hook to a song in the language.

In addition to being, according to some observers, the least likely to be educated in Nigeria, Hausas have been left behind in Nigeria's popular culture. The artist Zaaki never did get other Hausas to come to the fore in Nigerian music. I am not aware of any major Hausa actresses in Nigerian films who identifies with being Hausa the way Funke Akindele and Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde do with being Yoruba, or Genevieve Nnaji, Patience Ozorkwor (sorry if I'm butchering it), Stephanie Okereke and Rita Dominic are so obviously Igbo. Hausa films are much younger an industry than Yoruba and Igbo ones, but I wonder about their distribution in Lagos; if they only get around in Kano and Kaduna, it will only strengthen Hausa's isolation from Nigeria's mainstream. I am Yoruba, and the people and culture are so thoroughly a part of pop culture that one cannot but notice Hausas' absence when one compares. Couple this with the power Hausa elites have in Nigeria's polity, you get a lot of room for resentment and misrepresentation aided by silence of the group in the mainstream.

And then there's this video.

What makes the video so repellent to me is the near voicelessness of the people whose language and image is used in this song. I know Dare probably just means to put together a fun, interesting music video, but I know that if someone put together a not-so-flattering/ even slightly mocking video on Yorubas, there'd be more of a reaction across followers of Nigerian music. I wonder what a Hausa person would think seeing this, and how they will feel about their inability to affect the way they are being depicted in the popular culture of their own country.


  1. I don't know if Dare is mocking Hausas in this video, though I admit your take on it has me looking at the video a different light. I know how some Nigerians like to conflagrate Hausa and Arab cultures (no matter how stupid that is but people do stupid things).

    Disclaimer: I regularly am taken for Hausa; some say it is my name, others say it is my accent, others say I just look Hausa (apparently I look Northern and the fact that I come from the 'Middle Belt' is enough for this). I was born in Kaduna and both my parents grew up deep in the North, I spoke both Hausa and English as a child and now know more Hausa than Yoruba. Alright.

    I've always felt that Hausa entertainment has been excluded from the mainstream, for whatever multitude reasons I will not go into her, and as a result movie industries in places like Kano and Kaduna have sprung up in response. There are so many questions to ask; if Hausa movies were sold in places like Lagos, who would really watch them? Will other non-Hausa people take them seriously? I know the kind of comments I get when I put the channel on Africa Magic Hausa in room full of people that are not Hausa.

    You speak of Hausa isolation from the 'mainstream' but I wonder if this isolation is voluntary. In some ways this reminds me of 'racebending' expect we are dealing with cultures here. It seems the general 'Southern' public is content with people like Dare singing in Hausa rather than, you know, someone who is Hausa singing in Hausa (and I'm not sure if Zaki is Hausa or just Hausa speaking. Is he?)

    There are so many Hausa musicians and actors out there that can be easily discovered, however the interest has to be there first.

  2. Is it voluntary? I know nothing about Hausa people and/or the way they see their place in the country. If the being apart from the Nigerian mainstream is indeed voluntary, if subconscious, it makes for an interesting dynamic when coupled with the political aspirations of the Hausa elite.

    "It seems the general 'Southern' public is content with people like Dare singing in Hausa rather than, you know, someone who is Hausa singing in Hausa (and I'm not sure if Zaki is Hausa or just Hausa speaking. Is he?) "

    Zaaki is Hausa, I believe. Didn't he used to call himself "The Funky Mallam"?

    It's worth also wondering why a Southern public would rather see one than the other. Yorubas and Hausas tend to be culturally "closer" than Yorubas and, say, Igbos, or any other ethnic group. It's definitely not strange to see Yorubas speaking Hausa, as one would easily see in Kwara.

    Interesting stuff, huh?

  3. TBH, I'm not sure what this has to do with the Hausa elite in public if anything. It would be an interesting dynamic though, as you've said, do you have any ideas?

    Wrt to Zaaki, not all people who call themselves 'mallam' are Hausa XD Do you know which state he is from? I don't know but I've always considered him more as a Hausa speaker belonging to a non-Hausa ethnic group. A lot of people tend to read anyone from the North as Hausa.

    Can you outline what makes the Yorubas and Hausas culturally 'closer'. I'm from Kwara state :D, and I constantly get told that that doesn't make me a 'real' Yoruba and that I'm 'gambari'. I used to think this was strange but considering the history of Ilorin and Afonja, and the fact that the Fulani invaded those parts of Yorubaland, it makes total sense. I've never seen this history as a reflection on the entire Yoruba culture though.

    It is interesting and there is just so much to read, say and learn.

  4. With the Hausa elite thing, I was only making the observation that the people they are more involved with the politics than with the mainstream pop culture. I don't think it has anything to do with the pop culture itself either.

    I think Hausas and Yorubas are culturally close because of the effect Islam has on both cultures. For example, Yoruba musical style is very heavily influenced by the Islam; I think Apala (I bet that's not how to spell it, though) came about from singers calling on people to break their fast during Ramadan. I think Islam also manifests itself in cultural mores in ways that may be similar in both Hausa and Yoruba society, particularly in attitudes towards marriage and family.

    So yes, obviously, both Hausas and Yorubas have Muslim populations, many Hausas are familiar with Southern cities Lagos and Ibadan (though they probably could be with PH or Benin as well), and it's not unusual for Yorubas to speak Hausa, and for Hausas in the south to have understanding Yoruba, particularly those who work in large markets. I'm thinking of the ones I've met in Ibadan, Ado-Ekiti, and Lagos.

    Maybe you can clarify, but I'd be interested in how much Hausa makes use of Arabic words. In Yoruba, the word for destiny is "kadara" which is derived from the Arabic "kadir." There are others that my Arabic teacher taught me, but I don't remember them right now.

    I should probably add here that what I mean by a "cultural closeness" is more like the way Jews and Arabs are culturally close; there are definitely similarities one will find across both cultures, from food to linguistic similarities. These similarities need not cancel out the differences, but they are certainly there.

    Re: mallam, good to know.

  5. Oh, people being more interested in politics than mainstream pop culture...it does make sense. We could also bring up the issue that a lot of Muslims regard music as sinful. I heard that a lot of the actors in Hausa movies are not 'really Hausa' (as in they speak Hausa but belong to one of the many ethnic groups that may be found in the North) and can act so freely because they are not Muslim. I cannot confirm this though.

    I understand similarities due to Islam and its influence on both Hausa and Yoruba cultures (but I don't think the influence is equal). Wrt music style, on Wiki, doesn't it say that modern day styles of Nigerian music are influenced by Muslim calls to break fast? I'm not sure which type of music was being referenced to there, I'd have to search. And I can see what you mentioned about family and marriage.

    With regards to bilingualism, I can't think of any older member of my family that does not speak Hausa. I know some people who identify as Hausa that have Yoruba parents but I've never met a Hausa person that speaks Yoruba.

    There are some words in Hausa that may have roots in Arabic, in this way Hausa is similiar to say Swahili or other languages that have come in contact with Arab culture. Interestingly, I've always thought that words like 'kadara' came from Hausa to Yoruba, rather than from Arabic. Don't we use 'sharia' too, to imply justice? I remember laughing when I heard the word used in a movie once.

    When it comes to food for instance, I can't see the similarities. Yoruba food to me is amala and gbegiri while Hausa is waina, tuwo and mian kuka :D

  6. Well Zaaki is from Benue State and Tiv to be Precise. As a northerner myself who isnt hausa tho but hausa speaking, When I first heard the song I liked it but I was a bit offended. It seems anytime there is a representation of a hausa/northerner in media be it film, music or whatever, its an illiterate person with an exaggerated hausa accent. It seems southerner pretend like there are no educated northerners out there, we are all a bunch of power hungry, happy go lucky mallams who guard your houses. On the flip side, I enjoyed the video from a purely artistic standpoint, I like Darey as an artist and video has a fun feel to it to go with the beat.
    As for why hausa hasnt mainstreamed, I think in addition with having way more interest in politics than the arts, evidenced by how even the illiterate hausa man listens to the bbc hausa and is very informed, I think in terms of music, the hausa musician has shied away from making fusion music, a mix of western and traditional beats and music a la 9ice, Styl Plus and co. They have stuck to their traditional music. I agree with eccentric, there is a muslim dimension to it which I wont know as i m christian.

  7. I am from the North(not Hausa but i grew up in Kano) and i would say Darey's video was on point.Growing up in Kano we actually saw a lot of circuses mostly street circus with different acts such as fire eating,monkeys,hyenas,snakes,swords being swallowed etc and what they were most notable for was that they would hypnotize everyone watching and steal their valuables.

  8. The comments here have been helpful, since a lot of you actually live in the North. I absolutely own up to being overly sensitive in issues of representation, especially when it is a group that is fairly marginalised from the mainstream, so I think it is not impossible that I'm blowing this up in my head. But there seems to be kind of a consensus that Northerners are one-dimensionally depicted, while not thinking there is something wrong with this video itself. I just think it's strange that folks here seem to be so sanguine about the video, but that may just be different lenses at work here.

  9. 1)Hausas have a very conservative culture and tend to isolate themselves from these types of things.

    2)The individuals who own these enterprises may not want to showcase hausas or their culture in their busienss.
    Hausas are the BANE of Nigeria's existence. They are most responsible for our governments mediocrity.

    Through murder they took over the military and through the military they raped nigeria and the effects can be felt today.

    Falsifying ensus, zoning, quotas federal character, tribal-nepotism, institutionalized mediocrity, land use (oil theft)decree, ethnic and religious massacres,popularizing contract fraud and corruption. etc

    The entertainment industry was created by PRIVATE citizens, many IGBO, who had built their business from scratch, inspite of no help from the Xenophobic northern run institutions. Why would they showcase such a hostile people in the businesses they Pioneered?