Hoodrush is a musical following the lives and ambitions of two men: brothers Shez and Tavier from Nigeria. Shez grows frustrated of getting scammed in talent searches which have no interest in promoting talent – and he decides to seek his own path to musical success, and out of the poverty in which he and his brother live. Tavier is more conventional in his ways, preferring to maintain an honorable approach and place his hope in a new talent search organized by Americans: the African Idol (presented as an imitation of the popular American Idols talent search, which became Idols in Africa). Shez gets involved with Khadija, woman who promised to ‘be good to him if he is good to her’- and thus becomes the boy-toy of a drug baroness. Despite Shez’s attraction to another woman, he carries on his affair with Khadija unaware of the pit he is digging himself into. Tavier refuses to fall in line and maintains a relationship with Kelechi, a timid young woman suffering abuse in her aunt’s home. Shez and Tavier follow their divergent paths until they are reunited dangerous circumstances, and forced into a bitter-sweet climax.
Hoodrush is to me an African story in several ways. The first thing that struck me as a testament of the social “state” of Africa is the reverence with which the African Idol talent search, organized by foreigners, was regarded. It was repeated severally that because African Idol is organized by foreigners, it is bound to be legitimate – and every aspiring musician seemed wary of their fellow Nigerians after having fallen for one too many scams. This speaks of an attitude that I observe even in East Africa. So corrupt are our own systems that anything foreign is regarded as redemption from the rot of its African equivalent – and more often than not, it actually is! Another aspect of Hoodrush that struck is that although it is an African musical, the brothers Tavier and Shez sang in English, and in foreign accents. Rhythm and blues is their genre of choice, and they employ their talent in the style of Usher Raymond or Tyrese – singing with American accents. This is despite the fact that West Africa has a vibrant style of urban music which I call ‘Azonto music.’ It is common in parts of Africa to see aspiring musicians mimicking not only the styles, but also the accents, language and contexts of American singers and rappers, and Hoodrush did not shy away from perpetuating this disappointing characteristic. Hoodrush also took us into the world of the drug smuggling trade – one that Nigerians are well known for in this part of the world. Using young girls as carriers, the drug lords transport their goods across borders, placing the carriers in danger but offering a big reward.
It is always enjoyable to watch Nigerian movies that depict the colorfulness of West African mannerisms. From the Nigerian accent to the flamboyance of their language and expressiveness of their gestures, a ‘Naija movie’ is expected to represent the West African fullness of life and vitality. Hoodrush does not disappoint. Tavier is passionate and sentimental, rising to almost-comical fits of emotion, and when his love interest disobeys her aunt, she is forced to confront the animatedly agitated woman: “What devil done enter your head?! You turn witch?… I go so beat that devil over for your body!” – one can’t help but enjoy this moment.
Some flaws in the production of Hoodrush are so stark however, that they distract the viewer from the story. At some point, the same footage is used twice in the same scene, so that we wonder for a moment whether the movie has skipped back several seconds in some kind of error. The musical segments of the movie also seem completely detached from the movie itself – while in a musical, the music should seamlessly blend into the scene within which it plays and often give the impression that the character is singing it so as to drive the story forward. While this is not an imperative, it is the model that Hoodrush chose to use but failed to execute well enough. The songs sound like studio recordings fixed into the scene, so that the context of the sound takes us out of the movie for a few minutes and into a separate independent music video. It is also clear that while they are amazing actors, the two main actors are not very good singers and all their voices are modified each time they sing – a little disappointing for a musical. The sound also gives its production technique away when in a club scene, the surrounding noise and music goes quiet to allow us to hear the conversations of our characters – it becomes clear that the scene was shot in a silent club, and then music added in post-production. While we know that this is how many such scenes are executed, the technique should not be so obvious as to give away the illusion.
Hoodrush is nonetheless an enjoyable musical movie, taking us into the reality of modern Africa. This movie makes me reflect upon my own ambitions and how far I would be willing to go to achieve them – while tapping at my empathy for the people that are forced to do disagreeable things if only to see their dreams come true.