Could Kannywood Survive the Emerging Era of Television?


Movie industries worldwide are undergoing a radical shift with the emergency of television (TV) programs, popularly known as series. A while ago, only actors who could not get acceptance in the mainstream opt for TV roles. This trend seems to be fast changing with series like HBO’s magnum opus, Game of Thrones, made on a $1.5 billion budget, fetching the producer about $3.1 billion from subscriptions alone. Not only in Hollywood, but Bollywood is also equally making giant strides in TV. One would be surprised to see the impact of series like “Lies of the Heart” on TV ratings, and how such series negatively affect the box-office footprints of major mainstream movies shown in cinemas. In Nigeria, the rudimentary Hausa movie industry called Kannywood has passed through many experiments. It evolved from TV drama to create a niche in the genre of home video. Its many attempts to transform and get entrenched in cinema proved disastrous for the producers, making the industry vulnerable to shocks from low patronage and plagiarism. Although the industry has survived most of these onslaughts, including attacks from puritanical clerics, it seems unprepared for the competition from unlikely quarters- its origin (TV).

Before the birth of Kannywood, we were entertained by TV productions mostly sponsored by the Nigerian Television Authority and other state-owned TV stations. We grew up watching Kasimu Yero, Tumbuluke, Samanja, Malam Mamman, Alhaji Buguzun, Kuliya, Karo da Goma, Danwanzan, Karkuzu, Tambaya, Kandala, Bodara, Bariki, etc. Even at that period, there were subtle attempts to venture into cinema. Shehu Umar (an adaptation of Tafawa Balewa’s tragic story on slavery in Hausa land), Maitatsine (an adaptation of Kano’s infamous religious crisis of the 80s), and Ruwan Bagaja (an adaptation of Abubakar Imam’s book) were made as movies featuring Kasimu Yero and Malam Mamman in critically acclaimed roles. However, those movies did not make strong commercial waves as they competed with TV soap operas like Hanne da Kallamu, Jamila da Jamilu, and Farin Wata (Aminu Mijin Bose), and the relatively unsuccessful Hadarin Kasa.

For several reasons, the Hausa home video is now in reverse gear back to good old days. The age of TV is coming back to life, perhaps due to the increased penetration of satellites and disruptive technology. For instance, Arewa 24’s hugely successful TV productions like Dadin Kowa, Kwana Casa’in, and Labarina attract viewers from all over the world on satellites, YouTube, and mobile application dedicated to the TV station. The quality of these productions, crispy editing, socially engaging themes, suspense, and unending realistic drama, suddenly spark huge interest across society’s social strata. The relatively unknown characters in those TV productions have become more popular than mainstream actors. The implication here is that Kannywood is getting massive competition from its own shadow. Now, at no apparent cost, the TV entertains viewers to the extent that they look forward to another episode with bated breath. Could the struggling movie industry survive this?

This is undoubtedly a critical phase of Kannywood cinema. The industry’s primary driver, albeit paradoxically, seems to be the musical entertainment arm. Over the past few years, playback singers have emerged more independent and even successful than most movie stars. This phenomenon can be attributed to the evolving attachment of the modern Hausa weddings to event centers, where famous singers are hired to entertain the invited audience. Additionally, playback singers have found uncommon patronages from politicians who shower them with expensive gifts as payback for their hit songs that attract massive votes from young and impressionable supporters. As more singers assume independence, further separating from the industry’s fold, such movies’ major draw would hit a rock. In the long run, everything will be dictated by economics. The musical arm of the industry will continue to grow bigger, coalesce with “yan madahu”, and get much stronger with patronages, whereas the movie industry faces the risk of turning into shadows and dust.

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