Private Project

Elephant Food is for the Strongest Teeth

“What makes a man fearless comes from his heart” – Abdulrazaq Ahmad, AKA “Ebola”

In Kano City, Northern Nigeria, crowds gather to watch local heroes face off in the ancient Hausa martial art of Dambe. Part battle, part dance, part live mythology, it’s a cultural tradition that has survived and thrived in the region, despite invasion, famine, British colonialism and attacks by Boko Haram. In Dambe’s lightning-fast bouts, against a hypnotic soundtrack of live drumming and improvised praise songs, conflicts erupt, rivalries are formed and legends are made.

Elephant Food is For the Strongest Teeth follows one such legend, the Dambe champion “Ebola”, as he prepares for an encounter with his rival, Ali. As both a formidable fighter and a mentor to younger Dambe fighters from the local area, Ebola carries the hope and admiration of his community on his shoulders – for him, winning is not just about settling a score, but, he has to believe, an inevitability. His preparations for his clash with Ali reveal the many layers of belief, courage and superstition that run through the heart of Dambe. Joining him in the days before the match, we discover how, in Kano City, Islamic belief coexists alongside the mysterious rituals of traditional Boka medicine, and how Dambe’s world of symbolic warfare provides hope and solidarity for the community that surrounds it. Finally, we see Ebola’s meditative strength give way to explosive power as he wraps his fist in hard coils of rope and clashes with Ali on the Dandali battlefield.

To uncover the personal stories of this rarely documented world, directors Michael Kinsella Perks and Will Mcbain worked in collaboration with local producer/fixer Abdulaziz Abdulaziz and Nigeria-based filmmaker Daniel Israel. Narration comes from Kalangu talking drum percussionist and singer Yusuf Musa, whose improvised praise song soundtrack is a meditative tribute to both the art of Dambe Ebola’s heroic status in Kano City. The resulting film embraces Dambe’s many contradictions. Shot on-the-ground and up-close with its subjects, it’s a celebration of community and conflict, faith and superstition, beauty and brutality.

  • Michael Kinsella-Perks
  • Will McBain
  • Tommy Viney
  • Abdulaziz Abdulaziz
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    14 minutes 27 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    July 12, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    6,000 GBP
  • Country of Origin:
    United Kingdom
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital, MFT, Blackmagic Mirco
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director - Michael Kinsella-Perks, Will McBain