IT was Kenyan author and philosopher John Mbiti who said “I am because we are and since we are, therefore I am.” It’s Ubuntu. I couldn’t think of anything else, as I heard the story behind the making of Cameroonian artist Blick Bassy’s music video, Ngwa.
“…it’s inspired by a Kenyan story and a South African freedom fighter, the whole album is about a Cameroonian guy…and somehow put all that in a pot and cook it and see what comes out. I think if there’s a future for African art that’s it,” said director Tebog ‘Tebza’ Malope speaking at Blik’s screening in Joburg. Hosted in a chic lower ground floor in Braamfontein, where African jazz oozes from speakers above us, under warm burgundy lights at the Untitled Basement, off kilter attendees converse in their huddles as they eagerly wait to see the video on a Thursday night.
The song Ngwa is from Blick’s upcoming album, 1958 which comes out in March. 1958 is an ode to Cameroonian trade unionist and France adversary, Ruben Um Nyobè and the heroes of the Cameroonian Independence-all in the hope of reconnecting Cameroonians with their true history. Um Nyobè was butchered in 1958 by the French government and buried in concrete to remove any remnant of his legacy in the memory of Cameroonians.
“…making this project and telling Um Nyobè’s story, it was really important for me to come to Africa, to make it here and with people from here. People don’t know my country, they just know this one view coming from one storyteller, coming from a Western country. But here you have a beautiful storyteller, this is storytelling through this video. We have to show things by ourselves,” Blick shares his thought on the Ngwa video.
“He was a fighter, a visionary…he was someone who wanted to build people, not just for freedom but he wanted everyone to be equal. Um Nyobè was fighting for this. If you look at Cameroon today, we’re just living everything he was talking about-we have a lot of tribalism in Cameroon today, he spoke about this. So if we really wana go forward, we have to be connected to the roots-that’s why trees are beautiful, because with no roots there’s no tree.”
To visually tell this story, Blick roped in South African director Tebza, who borrowed from African narratives, to tell the story of these uncelebrated heroes. “I was reading Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o’s book called Matigari and the first chapter is about a Mau Mau soldier, in East Africa in Kenya who, in the first chapter has his AK47…somebody runs up the mountain to tell him ‘yo, we don’t have to train anymore, we’re free now. So come down’…” said Tebza explaining the inspiration.
After burying his rifle and descending from the mountain, the soldier grows a sense of disenchantment with this new world, as it seems he was sold a dream only for him to lay down his arms. “Same narrative with South Africa, same narrative with Cameroon. So when I started chatting with Blick about Um Nyobè, I realised there’s some sorta intersection between East, West and Southern Africa…”
The video was shot on the mountains of Lesotho, in wet and icy temperatures. “This was probably my hardest shoot ever. The horror stories behind this; we lost a day because of someone who was stuck at the boarder gate, we lost half a day because of the rain, had some trouble finding the horses because they ran often and just one thing after another,” says Tebza, who last year won the Best Music Video for Kwesta’s Spirit.
Renowned television and movie director Roli Nikiwe, who was present on the night, drove the crew to Lesotho and upon getting there, he offered to help by being the first AD, looking for locations and even assisting with the catering. “Africans always come together to complain about the enemy, the coloniser, but put two Africans together and there’s beauty. To watch the two of you guys, get together and put your heads together, make something work, for me was a beautiful example of what we could do as a continent,” said Nikiwe.
The video has beautiful wide shots that display the beauty of the African landscape. “…There’s rarely a close-up, because I just want you to see it. We’re talking about Africa that was taken from us, so let’s show it and see what was taken,” said the director.
The video ends off with Blick being stabbed with a spear by pursuing imperialists on open land “…The last bit is actually taken from Solomon Mahlangu’s statement before they hung him, ‘my blood will nourish the tree of freedom’…so in death, in Ruben Um Nyobè’s death, Solomon Mahlangu’s death, in the death of so many of our struggle heroes, they didn’t really die, they multiply, they became trees and they live on forever,” shared Tebza.