Wakaliwood feature director Isaac Nabwana and DUDE London ECD Curro Piqueras Parra talk to LBB’s Laura Swinton
“Life without comedy is not life,” says director Isaac Nabwana from his home in Kampala, Uganda. The former teacher is one of the country’s leading cinematic voices, and his distinctive combination of action movie bombast, DIY creativity and absurdist Ugandan humour has turned his features like Who Killed Captain Alex?
and Bad Black into international cult hits.
That humour has been put to good use in a new campaign for charity Communities for Development
. The ad, which has been created to raise money for the Ugandan community of Bulambuli, jettisons the usual clichés of charity ads – sadvertising and worthiness shot through a Western (and more often than not white) lens – in favour of a more optimistic strategy. And, most importantly, it’s got Ugandan talent behind and in front of the camera.
Money Makes Money
is a rap promo created with Isaac’s signature Wakaliwood style (Wakaliwood is the name of Isaac’s film studio, named after the Wakaliga area of Kampala). It embraces hip hop’s fake-it-till-you-make-it bravado to communicate the idea that for villages like Bulambuli, financial investment can help people build businesses and kick start local economies.
The idea was devised by creative agency DUDE London. While fundraising campaigns often try to tug our heartstrings or guilt the audience into donating, Money Makes Money instead frames contributing as an irresistibly joyful and positive act.
“We wanted to make people connect with this community, and then to say, ‘I cannot wait to donate. I'm excited to donate’,” explains Curro Piqueras Parra, ECD at DUDE. “The other thing is that I feel that so many NGOs have the same tone of voice so the more challenger ones have to find their own way. And to be honest, we treat this as any other product, we don't treat NGOs differently from other brands.”
It was crucial that the film reflected the community it was created to help – and that meant a hefty dollop of humour and comedy. And director Isaac, whose movies are packed with visual gags, with dry one-liners cutting through the oversized action and grindhouse violence, was the visionary to bring the film to life. Isaac's creative drive and the uncompromising storytelling ambition has allowed him to defy limited access to resources. And as a result, he's created Wakaliwood, a channel for not just his own creativity but that of his family, friends and neighbours. It parallels the ethos of Communities for Development, as they aim to energise the local communities that they work with. And for any creative, anywhere in the world, grumbling about the restrictions of Covid-19 or a lack of budget, he also serves as a true inspiration. "Isaac is making all of these movies in his home and in his neighbourhood and he gets to tell the most ambitious stories ever," says Curro, a longtime fan of Isaac's work. "He doesn’t care if his stories need three helicopters and four cars to tell it, he will find a way to do it and he won’t compromise to do it."
When Isaac was contacted by the team at DUDE, he said yes in an instant. “I’ve been doing the ads for my movies but I’ve never done a commercial like this or fundraising work of this nature. And I liked it because life is experience and I wanted to test my experience,” he says. “It was a nice moment when they contacted me and wanted me to be part of it. First of all, if it was going to help a village I would very much want to be part of it… there was nothing that could stop me just saying yes in that moment.”
So the production was a novel experience for both parties. For DUDE, they put all of their trust in Isaac and his Wakaliwood team and turned up in Uganda with just one camera to shoot a making-of documentary – everything else was supplied by Isaac’s well-oiled machine.
And for Isaac, the ad took him to his first shoot outside of Wakaliga as it was important to shoot the village scenes in a location that reflected Bulambuli. The process of working with the agency also afforded him more time for creative development than he’s been used to.
“I’ve worked with a lot of people and every time you get a new experience. I’ve never worked with such people who have given me time to think! They give you time to discuss – I like very much to share, but I always do it in a quick way. I think of something and do it, maybe, the next week, when you have a lot of time to think, you keep changing something,” says Isaac. “It was an experience for me, and now I have some projects that I started because of them [the agency] that I’ve given myself a year to do. I want to see the difference in production if I do it in one year and give myself time to discuss it.”
Director Isaac Nabwana helping to build the video's cardboard car
There are many remarkable aspects of the film – the saturated cinematography, the comedic performances – but it’s the props rustled together from junk that almost hold the campaign together. Champagne glasses made from plastic bottles, bling constructed from gold-sprayed straws, cars built from cardboard. There’s even a DIY helicopter in there – choppers have become something of a trademark in Isaac’s action movies (“I fear flights but I love choppers!”). An early shot shows adults and kids busily making the props, and for Curro it encapsulates the ingenuity and resourcefulness that’s at the heart of the campaign.
And, of course, there’s the track. Money Makes Money is a trilingual song that has been created with local music fans in mind. Ugandan rap artists Byg Ben Sukuya, MC Yallah and Jorah MC were brought on board to write and record the song, which contains a mixture of English, Luganda (majority language of Uganda) and Lugisu, the local dialect of Bulambuli. The team hope that the earworm will prove to be a hit in Uganda as well as with audiences abroad.
Judging by Isaac and Curro’s chuckles, the production was an enjoyable affair. The music video was shot sequentially, ending with a party scene that felt like a massive party for the crew and agency team too.
The film was shot in October 2019, and it launches at a time when the world needs a bit of fun. And, after months of lockdown that has seen businesses, transport and education shut down, Ugandan villages like Bulambuli need support more than ever. Originally the campaign was intended to launch in late February, but as the reality of Covid-19 hit the teams at Communities for Development and Dude decided to put the campaign on hold. As we chat, Isaac points out the blackboard covered in mathematics equations behind him – as a former teacher, he’s been drawing on his past experience to home school his own kids.
“The truth is it is a really tough situation,” says Isaac. He explains that Uganda enforced a strict lockdown early on. Now some public transport is up and running again, though running at half capacity. Harvests have been good, but schools are still shut and parents are worried about what this generation of youngsters might lose. “Many, many parents are worried about their children who have spent this long time in lockdown. And we don't know, because education was closed indefinitely. We don't know when it is going to be open. And I think education is the backbone of all countries. So, we need it.”
Isaac was already passionate about the cause, but now after months of lockdown he really hopes that people will respond to the film. When asked what he wants people to take from the campaign, he says, simple: “For me I would say, everyone should donate to the people of Bulambuli. I know the story very well, I have been living in Uganda all my life and I know what it means to live in such a village. I grew up in Kampala and I had the chance to go to different villages.”
And, while Curro too hopes that the campaign will help change the lives of the villagers and encouragement into local education and business, he thinks the project carries another lesson or two for the advertising industry.
“I would like to encourage the industry to look a little more into the places where they shoot their films and try to source local talent; not just to bring all your crews and cameras from London. No one wants to take risks but working with Wakaliwood was no risk at any time – these were amazing artists we worked and they were so organised and we have an amazing video and an amazing song,” says Curro. “That was about trusting local artists. Work with local directors, local production companies, local talent because in the end it will be more fresh, more unique.”
Donate to the campaign here.