Ayamma: Music in the Forest is a Nollywood movie musical released in 2016. It was written by Vivian Chiji and directed by Chris Eneaji, with Emem Isong of Royal Arts Academy as producer. Its stellar cast includes Adesua Etomi, Wale Ojo and Theresa Edem.
In Music in the Forest, Daraima (Wale Ojo – Kasanova), the crown prince of a tiny Ibibio kingdom dreams of a beautiful young maiden with a lovely voice and sky blue eyes. He is in love with her, but he has never met her. She is Iheoma (Adesua Etomi), but he calls her Ayamma – “Will you love me?”
On the day he welcomes his foreign fiancée, Princess Ama (Theresa Edem), Daraima is shocked to see Iheoma dancing with the maidens. But it is not really Iheoma, but Iko (Adesua Etomi), who looks and sounds just like the woman in his dreams, but with golden eyes. A series of tragedies and revelations follow to create conflict, such as the destabilization of the kingdom.
The Netflix synopsis of this movie goes, “An engaged prince dreams of a beautiful, singing maiden and is then shocked to come across a woman who looks and sounds exactly like her.” If only Ayamma was the magical romance it hints at being. Instead, we get a weak plot, bland political intrigue, twists that inspire laughter instead of exclamations of surprise, and no romance outside of Daraima’s dreams. Characters will seem human one second and become cardboard cutouts the next.
Not bad, but…
The story is quite a disappointment, not because it is bad, but because of the blandness and missed opportunities. The movie takes its sweet time in the first half, then rushes the important part.
One of the disappointing parts is the reveal of the connection between Iko and Iheoma. It could have been something more mystical and in line with the magical realism in the story. Instead, it was cliché and meaningless.
Well done actors!
Yet Ayamma is very enjoyable. This is in part due to the stellar performance of the actors. Three of the main actors stand out. Adesua Etomi is a delight. She goes from joyful to irritated to politely confused when the situation calls for it, and her reactions are fun to watch. That is until she is in deep pain, or rightfully enraged, then the intensity of her emotions leave you breathless.
Wale Ojo plays the charmer who is consumed by grief and madness and pulls off his role pretty well. But the shining star is Theresa Edem, the cold, regal princess who is wonderfully evil and refuses to be sidelined. These three held the story together, with decent support from Majid Michel (Prince Ekong), Deborah Frances (Itoro) and Ime Bishop Umoh (Aniefiok).
Unfortunately, for a musical, not enough effort was put into the music. The lip-singing is bad and the sound quality is low. There is also the problem of the lyrics and melody sounding like something a musician from a city cooked up, instead of people from a rural village in the olden days. It could be that their budget wasn’t enough, because musicals cost a lot of money.
The sword fight choreography is the funniest thing in the movie, and we’re not sure if this is intentional. Apart from the eclipse scene (where a black and white filter is unironically utilized), the cinematography is decent. The natural set design is charming and picturesque, and the costumes are lovely.
All in all, Ayamma is a beautiful disappointment. They had the license to make the movie really magical. With the gods and strange dreams and sorcery, but they didn’t take advantage of it. The Nollywood industry needs to be brave and take more risks.