Teranga documents an Afrobeats migrant-run nightclub in Naples offering a safe space for the city’s asylum seekers
The documentary film follows Fata and Yankuba, who fled the dictatorship in Gambia, only to find themselves living in a politicised limbo, when they find solace in a migrant-run nightclub.
- 19 February 2020
- Jyni Ong
- Reading Time
- 4 minutes
Shot over two years, Teranga transports viewers into a snapshot of Naples. It’s an observational short documentary following Fata and Yankuba, two young Gambian men who have fled from poverty and a dictatorship, now hoping to make a new life in Naples.
In the Italian city in the south however, the two refugees face different kinds of challenges. Directed by Sophia Seymour, Daisy Squires and Lou Marillier, the film follows the protagonists as they wait in limbo for a response to their asylum requests. Amidst an increasingly racist social landscape, and a heavily bureaucratic immigration system, Fata and Yankuba find solace in an Afrobeats migrant-run nightclub, Teranga, the film’s namesake.
Teranga's beginnings developed when Daisy, who had been working on the Bafta-award winning documentary series Exodus following the migrant crisis through Europe, met Sophia in Naples. Sophia had been there for a year, volunteering as a translator in a refugee reception centre until recently, when she decided she “didn’t want to be complicit in the corrupt immigration system,” and ended up working on Exodus too, as a fixer. Simultaneously, the Stockholm-based Lou (also a collaborator of Daisy’s) had been working around similar themes as a documentary filmmaker. The three directors came together with the aim of presenting a different side to the migrant story. Daisy tells It’s Nice That: “We wanted to represent the migrant world we had been granted such a privileged access to positively. We wanted to show the resilience and everyday acts of resistance in order to stay sane during this time of limbo.”
The directors had been invited to Teranga early on. Though only a “tiny basement”, instantly, they realised the importance of the safe space. African asylum seekers gathered round to dance, a place away from the “grim realities of living in camps” and enduring daily acts of racism. Lou continues: “We wanted to show how much joy and hope we saw in Teranga, despite the collective difficulties everyone had been through and faced on a day-to-day basis.” The moving Guardian documentary celebrates the uniqueness of Teranga, a place where West African music is treasure and everyone is welcomed.
“We particularly cherished how important the Teranga club experience was for many asylum seekers as a place where people go to dance and ‘scrape off’ – as Yankuba says – their troubles, rather than getting wasted or hooking up,” adds Sophia. “Even though the club is mainly filled with men (as there are very few female asylum seekers in Italy), they are mostly Muslim men and therefore don’t drink alcohol. For Europe, the club creates a unique and nourishing environment that feels respectful and secure, especially for women.”
Fata had been stuck in a camp in an abandoned hotel by a seaside resort for two years when he met Sophia. The directors describe him as “determined, ambitious and very focused on his goals, so he is extremely impressive and inspiring to be around.” He wanted to be a famous DJ even before he became one, and had always looked the part with a crisp white t-shirt and a fresh pair of trainers. He’d pick up swimsuits to sell on the beach to tourists near his camp, and it was there that he met Sophia. He offered to cook Gambian food for their mutual friends back at her flat, sparking a tradition where every weekend, Gambians would gather at Sophia’s flat to cook, play music, and just “hang out away from the stressful and depressing environment of the camps.”
Additionally, the directors met Yankuba when they were out filming one day. “Yankuba popped his head into the car at a redlight outside his camp and began rapping a song he had written,” says Daisy. “He was charming, so bright and full of optimism.” As a result, he stayed in contact with Sophia, coming to visit her whenever he came into Naples. Stuck in a camp 30 miles outside the city, he tried to come often to visit the EX- OPG, which Sophia explains is an “amazing squat that provides free migrant support, legal assistance and free Italian classes.” Politically engaged and outgoing, Yankuba was keen to demonstrate the ambition and value of migrants. “He had so much he wanted to share and we felt like we had the tools to collaborate with him to tell his story,” adds Lou.
Over the next two years, the directors lives became closely intertwined with the two protagonists. Not only did they party and cook together, Yankuba and Fata explained the complex mechanics of the immigration system to them and allowed them access to every aspect of their lives. The directors worked with them collaboratively, constantly discussing the aim of the film and what it would portray. Feeling helpless and angry at many of the experiences that the migrants were put through, Daisy, Lou and Sophia hope that the film can help raise awareness into how more than 900,000 asylum seekers are waiting for their documents across Europe.
“The money intended for their welfare which was exploited by private landlords for their presence in the camps was the hardest thing to deal with,” add the directors. “And to see asylum seekers being used as merchandise for the mafia was especially excruciating.” But on a more hopeful note, with the funds raised from the film, Daisy, Lou and Sophia hope to support Fata and Yankuba in their respective aspirations.
In the process of setting up a DJ mentorship for Fata, there is also a crowdfunding campaign to support Yankuba attending Bangor university. They are also hoping to find worldwide distribution for the film’s soundtrack which was recorded by a host of Gambian asylum seekers including Dozer Gang and Lil Bo$$ in a DIY studio in Naples set up by DJ Sass and the Senegalese producer Carbone 14.
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.