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Art

Documentary caps off 50 years of African fashion

Nasenyana Ajuma
Supermodel Nasenyana Ajuma on the catwalk at the African Heritage House. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU 

African Twilight, the documentary film that premiered at Alliance Francaise last Monday night was indeed “a forty-year odyssey”.

It was a two-hour movie mix that capped off almost 50 years of African-inspired fashion, 40 years of photography recording regional rituals and ceremonies, and several lifetimes of African musicians, models, designers and dancers, all of whom have been closely associated with the doyen of Afro-fusion culture and founder of African Heritage House, Alan Donovan.

The film is also a great mixture of African culture that was originally meant to document an amazing gala evening dedicated to celebrating the double-barrelled opus African Twilight: vanishing rituals and ceremonies by veteran photographers, Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher. In the documentary the two women provide a fascinating thumb-nail cinematic sketch of their brilliant and adventurous careers, including filmed footage of some of the ceremonies they recorded, 40 percent of which no longer exist, having literally vanished with the sweeping changes brought about by colonisation and globalisation.

But the film features much more. It also covers Donovan’s reconstruction of the glamourous African Heritage fashion and music festival which he took on tour all over Europe and the United States in the 1980s and 90s. Included in those tours were members of the African Heritage Band, which had been founded by the late Ayub Ogada (aka Job Seda) who was meant to be one of the stars in the film. But as he died just days before the event, Donovan paid tribute to him by dimming the lights that night and turning on the recording of his original composition, Koth Biro which became the haunting theme song of the award-winning film The Constant Gardener.

The only shortcoming of African Twilight , was the lengthy cat-walking of models. But this did not distract from the beautiful gowns all made out of indigenous African textiles, most of which had been collected over the years by Mr Donovan. They were made with materials that came from all over Africa— from Ethiopia, Ghana and Cameroon, and from Congo, Guinea, Nigeria and even Kenya.

For those who attended the actual gala, the documentary film felt quite authentic, although the vibrancy of dancing by Rare Watts, Fernando Anguang’a and his team of Maasai dancers as recorded in the film could not compare to what we saw at their live performance. Nonetheless, the film confirms the gala was an unforgettable night.

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