Fists Of Sokoto: Spotlighting Northern Nigeria's Intriguing Kung Fu Movies
Published on Sat, Jun 08 2013 by Web Master
Martial arts films have inspired audiences that were not content to just watch and turned to film production. In Sokoto, the small city in the northwest corner of Nigeria, a martial arts school went one step further and created its version of Chinese martial arts to make action movies.
Bahiri, a large, imposing martial artist is the force behind this highly localized phenomena. As a young man, Bahiri and his friends would sneak to the open air cinemas to watch martial arts films. They were enamored by the action, but could barely emulate what they saw. Shortly after his experience, the Biafran war began in southeastern Nigeria and soldiers were stationed in Sokoto. As part of their routine, the soldiers organized judo practice in the stadium. Bahiri saw this as his opportunity to learn kung fu. What he has created is an amalgam of judo and various elements borrowed from film.
In 1999, cheap VHS production allowed the school to begin making their own action films. Acting became part of the martial arts repertoire. Much like the martial arts, they would watch and dissect the films, practicing acting with the same finesse applied to a physical movement. The resulting films borrow heavily from kung fu tropes. Ninjas explode into smoke and shoot lighting bolts. A lone fighter take down crowds of attackers effortlessly. And when anyone falls, they make one last effort to reach out with their dying breath before collapsing unconscious.
Bahiri has made seven films so far which, according to him, made very little money. While most of Nigeria is churning out “dialogue” films—dramas unfolding with actors simply talking to one another—his films are much more difficult to shoot. “[Dialogue films] only take 10-15 minutes to make a scene,” he explains. “For action films it can take 2 to 3 days.”
Nevertheless, Bahiri continues to make films (and was recently hired to choreograph the action in the big budget Nollywood film Spirit of the Assassin: The Talisman) But the majority, self-produced and low-budget, remain unprofitable and on the fringe of mainstream Hausa film. Nevertheless, Sokoto’s action films are a labor of love, the realized dreams of children who wanted to see themselves on the screen so much that the school may very well have invented a whole new brand of kung fu just to get there. “We call our style pikira kung fu. ‘Pikra’ means inspiration,” Bahiri explains. “We inspired ourselves by looking at films.”