Sani Danja is a household name when it comes to Kannywood and music in Northern Nigeria. Reputable for his unique costumes and Indian-style song-and-dance routines, he spoke to us about his switch from music to movies and the state of the Northern Nigerian film industry.
You sing and you act. At what point in your career did you decide to move from one to the other?
I started with music, but it was not so popular so I moved into acting after people drew my attention to it, ironically because of the songs I had released at that time. I changed the tunes into Hausa and this really attracted people as it was played a lot on NTA. As time went on, I perfected an amalgam of acting/singing/dancing as is evident in the colourful nature of my movies or performances.
Does it mean you are partially responsible for Kannywood movies having a lot of singing and dancing?
No. The West actually introduced music into film as you can see from classic musicals like Sound of Music, The King and I and so on. That's where the Indians took a cue from and we took from them. The Hausas feel more affiliation to the Indians because they have similar cultures. That's why our movies reflect a lot of their style and people look at us as copying from them. But I cannot say that we are actually doing that.
As for music in Kannywood productions, if you look at Hausa culture, there is music in every aspect of it. Planting, harvesting, naming and wedding ceremonies, festivals and practically everything else.
You seem to have crossed over to Nollywood, Kannywood's English-speaking 'big sister'. How many movies have you done there so far?
I have done about seven or eight and the reason they are few is because Nollywood takes about three to four weeks shooting one movie. I don't have that much time to spend on one movie. I have a lot of businesses I am running and other things I am involved in that I cannot afford to spend that kind of time on one production.
When Kannywood is mentioned, Ali Nuhu and you are at the top. How do you manage the rivalry?
There is no rivalry. Rather, I would say producers take advantage of what is happening with both our groups of fans. They bring these differences into the movies, just to generate hype and sell a movie. That's why you see us usually playing rivals in movies. But in reality we have a very good relationship. There is no envy between us but a healthy competition.
But some people still see you as an Ali Nuhu 'wanna-be'. Considering that you have also made a name for yourself, what do you say about this?
There is no basis for that impression. Ali [Nuhu] is into Nigerian movies, I am not. I don't even have an interest in them. Even the ones I did, I did for the sake of my fans, some of who did not believe I could diversify.
What is your song, Copy-Copy about?
It is a song I did for those who like to copy other people's work. Even though I copied the songs of other artistes to portray my message, I focused on the fact that originality pays a lot more. When people copy from you, it makes you more authentic.
How did you manage with your house being burnt in the post-election violence?
It was my family house that was destroyed, not my personal home.
How do you see Kannywood exploiting new media to reach a wider audience?
We have problems. Nollywood is more accepted in the Western world because, they blow their trumpet. Most of their governors and people in politics give them support. The reverse is the case for us. We are always battling with our people and get no support whatsoever from our leaders. Sometimes they look at you as wayward. We are just on our own and are subdued.
Can you imagine that there was a time Kano-based hotels had a meeting where it was decided that none of them should permit us to use their premises? We eventually found an abandoned and uncompleted hotel in Mangwan part of Kano. We did it up to suit our needs and began using it. No sooner had we settled there when the authorities sent police after us. Later on, they decided that anybody who wanted to use the place should pay first for the location. They are always at our necks.
Nobody has given any one of us a grant or scholarship to even do a specialised programme. Look at our movies, the subtitles are very bad. The cameras are bad. Are these the kinds of things we want to display on new media? I think not.