Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The things one finds on YouTube...

Well, this is kinda interesting. To me, anyway. Kinda.

Considering that I've previously expressed dismay over the lousy preservation treatment that's been accorded a lot of old Nigerian movies and TV shows, it kinda makes me happy to see stuff like this.

I don't know where they got this from... For all I know, it could have been ripped from the iNollywood site, in which case it's probably ancient history to the folks who use their service. I don't use their service, so it's new to me:

Basi and Company debuted in 1985, the brainchild of author and playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa, then hot off the success of his self-published Civil War novel Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English and collection of poems Songs in a Time of War. Basi was much lighter fare, though; a sitcom centered around a loveable trickster named Basi (or Mr. B) who comes to Lagos with dreams of becoming a millionaire but ends up living in a one-room flat surrounded by a colorful characters like his dimwitted sidekick Alali, Dandy the bartender and the golddigging Segi, all of whom he drags into his weekly moneymaking schemes while trying to stay one step ahead of his flamboyant landlady, "Madam the Madam."

Basi and Company was more than just a hit show--although it certainly was that; it was almost definitely the most popular television program to ever hit the Nigerian airwaves at that point and even gained followings in other African countries--it was an all-over marketing phenomenon. You had Basi T-shirts, Basi books, Basi hats, and the national popularity of buzz phrases like "If you want to be a millionaire, think like a millionaire!" "It's just a matter of CASH!" "I'm hungry, Mr. B!" and "Come in if you're handsome and rich!"

Looking back on it now, I'd say a large part of the show's success could be attributed to Saro-Wiwa's skillful use of certain mind-control techniques long employed by British and American TV comedies, namely the laugh track (this was the first Nigerian show to feature one) and characterization by way of punchy catchphrases that are repeated at least once per episode, though often much, much more (a.k.a. The Ever-Popular "Are You 'Avin' a Larf?" Effect).

That much aside, it was pretty well put-together (at first, anyway). I won't claim to have been a major fan of the show (I could probably count the number of full episodes I watched on one hand and still have enough fingers left over to stroke my goatee and thumb my nose--I mostly gave up on watching NTA network shows when my own favorites Second Chance and The Bala Miller Show were unceremoniously yanked off the air in '85) but the few times I checked it out, it seemed pretty entertaining, and its broad lambaste of the mid-1980s Nigerian get-rich-quick mentality really resonated with the audience.

Based on the ads at the beginning, I'm going to guess that this episode is from 1988--not a particularly enriching point in Basi and Company's run, really. You see, the part of Mr. B was originated by Albert Egbe, who I always thought was much too old for the role (he must have been in his late 30s if not early 40s) but was an incredibly engaging and likeable performer who brought the character wonderfully to life. In 1987, Egbe exited the show over money disputes with Saro-Wiwa; considering that Egbe's likeness was so intractably associated with the character, it looked like there was no way for Basi and Company to continue without him. But somehow, Saro-Wiwa reeled in young up-and-comer Zulu Adigwe to fill Basi's cap and T-shirt and soldiered on. This was universally accepted as the show's shark-jumping moment.

(I remember my father telling me that they actually explained Mr. B's radically changed appearance with some bizarre Doctor Who-esque plotline about Basi going to the moon and undergoing a physical metamorphosis! My dad can be a big kidder sometimes, so I was never really sure whether or not he made up that story. But considering the fact that Saro-Wiwa often novelized his teleplays and he later published a children's book called Mr. B on the Moon, I guess it's probably true.)

At this point, it was like Saro-Wiwa wasn't even trying very hard anymore. Production values nosedived as he delegated more and more. The scripts felt phoned-in. It was as if Saro-Wiwa himself was bored with the show, or maybe he was just too distracted to give it his full attention, seeing as he had accepted an appointment from President Babangida to shepherd the proposed 1990 transition to civilian rule (which didn't happen, of course).

The show limped along for a few more years, during which time Saro-Wiwa continued to expand the Basi and Company brand via a successful series of children's books, published teleplays and other spinoffs. Zulu Adigwe even released a record as Mr. B, based on the character's catchphrase (He can be seen singing the song at the beginning of this clip).

Basi and Company finally went off the air in 1990, as Ken Saro-Wiwa began to concentrate more and more on the causes for which he is best-remembered today: Campaigning against the Nigerian government's and Royal Dutch Shell's abuse and exploitation of the environment and people in the oil-producing Delta region of the country. In 1994, when Sani Abacha's government (with the tacit encouragement of Shell) detained him and eight other activists on a trumped-up murder charge, Saro-Wiwa became a cause celebre for human rights advocates the world over. After a rigged trial, Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues were hanged on November 10, 1995. In the years since, he's taken on the stature of a kind of contemporary Martin Luther King-type figure on account of his activism, so it's nice to see some of his other work out there.

Another interesting note: The opening credits list the Production Manager as "Nkem Owoh." I will assume this is the same Nkem Owoh who in recent years has achieved immense fame as a comedic actor, particular in the mega-grossing Osuofia in London films and the accompanying "I Go Chop Your Dollar" clip that generated a good deal of controversy when it appeared online a few years ago.

It was just a satirical in-character novelty song narrated from the POV of a 419er, but some of these onyibo people were piiiiiiiiiiiiiiissed... They even showed the video on 20/20 and Dateline NBC and they were practically exploding with outrage: It was bad enough that scores of innocent, honest Americans were being scammed out of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year when all they had tried to do was help a fellow human being out the pure goodness of their hearts and aid the besieged son of a deceased African dictator in laundering millions of embezzled dollars! And now these unwashed cockroaches skittering around in some podunk Third World shithole like Nigeria had the nerve to make a music video mocking them and bragging "white man, I will eat your dollars"??!!??

I think the line that really burned dem belly had to have been "419 is just a game... You are the LOSER... I am the WINNER!" (Probably "I BE THE MASTER!" too.) Chris Hanson was positively brimming with the kind of moral indignation that he's never mustered up when standing in a suburban kitchen chatting with CanIRapeUAnally312, who's insisting that even though he's just driven four hours to meet with a 13-year-old boy with condoms, KY Warming Formula and a ball gag in his glove compartment, his only intention was to caution the kid of the dangers of hooking up online!

But like I was saying: It's cool to see these old shows people preserved in some form even though my main priority right now is rescuing vintage musical performances. I'd love to see the musical numbers from Victor Uwaifo's variety shows make an appearance. I know he's got to have every single one saved... I mean, Victor Uwaifo has a friggin' museum where he's preserved his first guitar that he made from an oil can and some string when he was knee-high to a cricket and framed clippings of about every story that's ever been written about him. Considering the fact that he owned his own TV production facility back then, he's got to have all the tapes. Someone should convince him to put them joints out on DVD or something.

(Come to think of it, Saro-Wiwa was an independent producer who owned all his masters, too... And these clips look like they were taken from the masters. How did they get here? *shrug*)

Anyways, if you want to watch the rest of "The Transistor Radio," here's

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4


kwasi said...

yeah, I'm amused by the outrage over 419 and related activities myself. Its kind of silly really. That said, I assume being conned by an Africa might hurt a little bit. We are sooo dumb after all.

Oh, thanks for the TV clip, I never knew Ken Saro-Wiwa wrote for television. Good stuff

Comb & Razor said...

yeah... there's definitely an issue of injured pride working there.

unlike a lot of people i know, i don't support or sympathize with the scammers... but i still think it's pretty hypocritical the way the American media often paints the scammees as poor, innocent victims rather than as greedy suckers who tried to exploit other people's misery and ended up getting got.

Africainement said...

yes i saw that on 20/20 and i luaghed so hard...no what actually kills me are those dumb people who fall for those scams...just like that guy who was ready 2 send his entire fortune ....come on dude...i dont' feel bad for them sometimes cos it's like don't you have som' better 2 do than read stupid emails on line of somebody u don't even know and send them $$ ...i guess u don't need it afterall ...

Bigdaf said...

I always enjoy your write ups and your way with words really captures the reader.

The 419 thing just turns the tables on those that have the Mr B mentality, fast buck, to be a miilionaire......

To think that the ordinary Joe on the street still thinks that they can siphon money where they have not sowed, and then have the cheek to look like the victim. Anyhow dont let me start.

Osuofia's music and films are just that, a satirical look at the realities faced by many across the globe. For this he still experiences troubles on his travels outside of Nigeria.

He also has his political views also, see link below:


ms bazu said...

wow. african sitcoms. i'm really shocked i've never heard of such. i guess i shouldn't being as though i'm from HERE and we don't learn much about THERE and also i don't think Congo ever had a sitcom. i think my parents woulda told me about it lol

mad interesting as usual!

Comb & Razor said...

i don't know if Congo had sitcoms in the past, but i'm pretty sure they have them now, as both les fleur and Bongo have told me about them!

i look forward to seeing them!

kulutempa said...

basi on the moon storyline: 100% true. ksw did not shy away from hyperbole. i wish i remembered enough about the plot to be able to say whether it was pointlessly outlandish, or whether the tongue in his cheek was still making an attempt to say something...

i'm still a fan. this was a good write-up.

oh, and these masters were stolen. nigerians. what can you do?

Comb & Razor said...

Thanks, kulutempa -

It's pretty disturbing to think that not only were these masters stolen, but people decided to use them to make money.

The site that used to stream them seems to be offline now, though... Wonder what will happen to these tapes now *sigh* I guess I'll never get the chance to see that Basi on the moon episode!