A few years ago, self-described "guerrilla ethnomusicologist" Christopher Kirkley went to West Africa and discovered something neither he nor anyone outside the region knew existed. In an area with no reliable Internet connections, people had created a literal peer-to-peer file sharing network, trading MP3s of locally produced artists from across the Sahara via Bluetooth technology on cheap, off-brand cellphones. One of the artists that caught the Portland-based Kirkley's attention in particular was Mdou Moctar, a young guitarist from Niger playing the psychedelic "desert blues" of international crossover acts like Tinariwen and Bombino. Back in the states, Kirkley featured Moctar on his Sahelsounds blog and the Music from Saharan Cellphones compilations. In 2012, he returned to Niger and recorded a full-length album with Moctar. Now, Kirkley's taking the next logical step: He wants to make Moctar into a movie star.
Kirkley spent three weeks in the city of Agadez in northern Niger last year developing a script. The story centers around a musician (Moctar) struggling with competing artists, a difficult home life, romantic problems and his own internal strife. He also happens to ride around the desert on a purple motorcycle. If that sounds a lot like Purple Rain, it's not an accident—the title, Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai, translates to "Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It." (There are also obvious echoes of The Harder They Come, the Jamaican film starring Jimmy Cliff that helped turn the rest of the world on to reggae.) Moctar is a nomadic Tuareg, and the film will be the first-ever feature shot in their native tongue.
During his trip in 2013, Kirkley shot initial scenes with an all-local cast. He's launched a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of raising $12,000 to help cover the budget—that includes costumes, food, permits, rental fees and other daily expenses—in order to shoot the movie in February. Filming in West Africa, in a region fraught with security concerns, intermittent electricity and a lack of paved roads, presents a series of unique obstacles, but Kirkley ensures they're prepared to deal with those obstacles and that "in the end, a movie will get made, whatever happens during the shoot."
"I'd like to get it into festivals, but obviously the most important thing is getting it to Niger," Kirkley writes. "We'll probably release it on local DVDs, which (hopefully) will be bootlegged—and also divide it up as "parts" released as 3gp on cellphones...how many people choose to consume media now anyways!"
You can find more details and donate to the Kickstarter here, and check out the (pretty awesome) teaser trailer below, which makes the Purple Rain connections even clearer. Here's hoping that at some point, someone says, "Purify yourself in the waters of Lake Chad."