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Blaxploitation, Kenya-Style

This video, for the song “Ha-He” by the Kenyan group Just A Band, has become a huge hit in Kenya, and is now going viral with a wider audience, in part thanks to Digg.com, which is where I ran across it, and where it has been posted more than a half dozen times in the last couple of months.

The video draws on blaxploitation and kung fu movies for its plot and style. The subtitles seem like a strangely articulate but still bizarre parody of those crazy subtitles on 70s kung fu movies from Hong Kong (cf, the Shaw Brothers), and there is even a Matrix reference. Meanwhile, the hero’s name, Makemende, is a Swahili slang term that derives from a corruption of the classic Clint Eastwood line from Dirty Harry, “make my day.”

This is a fairly run-of-the-mill collection of enthusiasms and references for a North American fanboy, but what intrigued me was to see them cropping up in a Kenyan music video. I suspect I shouldn’t be surprised, and that the only real surprise is that I have allowed myself to remain ignorant of most cultural activity in Africa, beyond my long-running interest in the Nigerian musician Fela Kuti and more recent discovery of the Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré.

Perhaps, in the same way that Hong Kong filmmakers were able to take degenerate Hollywood tropes and styles and genres and reinvigorate them, largely due to the entirely uncynical and enthusiastic manner with which they approached them, African filmmakers can take the weirdly wonderful genre of blaxploitation films and reinvent them, hopefully with a subversive and critical edge. Perhaps they already have…

WikiPedia: “Makemende is a fictional Kenyan superhero character which has enjoyed a popular resurgence after an adoptation by Kenya’s musical group Just A Band in the music video for their song Ha-He on their second album, 82 (2009). The video became the first viral internet sensation in Kenya

History

The word Makmende is a sheng (Swahili slang) word which means “a hero”. The name supposedly originated from a mispronunciation of Clint Eastwood’s phrase “Go ahead, make my day” (Mek ma nday) from his 1983 movie Sudden Impact. The word made its way into Kenyan streets in the 1990s whereby the streets bad guy wannabe would be called out and asked “Who do you think you are? Makmende?”. Anyone who thought they could do the impossible or a particularly difficult task was always asked whether they thought they were Makmende since only Makmende could do or attempt to do the impossible. The character Makmende is associated with the fashion wear of the early 1980s. He is portrayed with long John Shaft-like afro hair and bell bottom trousers…” (via Wikipedia).

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zerode by nick chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Oh - and hello to Jason Isaacs.

The 400 Blows

zerode

is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.

 

What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

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