The news of Rabi Mustapha’s death on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 was a big blow to the Hausa film industry. It was more shocking as it happened suddenly, with many a stakeholder asking the inevitable question: “Was she sick?”
It emerged later that Rabi had been taken ill intermittently for many months before she died at the Malam Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital in Kano.
She was a leading singer/lyricist for the Hausa movies right from the inception of the industry in the mid-1990s. Her voice had graced almost uncountable films, ranging from renown producer/actor Ibrahim Mandawari’s superhit ‘Ki Yarda Da Ni” to other popular productions like ‘Zakaran Gwajin Dafi,’ ‘Kara Da Kiyashi,’ ‘Sa’a Ta Fi Gata,’ ‘Maigida Kwanzuma’ and ‘Badaqala.’
Fim, the leading industry newsmagazine, once called her the ‘Lata Mangeshkar of the Hausa film industry’ – a remarkable comparison to the legendary Bollywood singer.
She had also practised as an actress, appearing in many movies, such as ‘Ingiza Mai Kantu,’ ‘Badaqala,’ ‘Saki Reshe’, ‘Tawakkali,’ and ‘Mujadala’. Though she became a leader in the singing aspect, Rabi did not earn significant stardom as an actress.
In the midst of her acclaim as a singer, however, she got married to an Abuja-based civil servant. The marriage was blessed with a son, but it did not last as it crashed a few years later in 2005.
Rabi returned to Kannywood, the film industry, and resumed her work as a singer. This time around she had matured further and therefore sought to become a leader in her own way. After mulling a few business ideas, she set up her own studio where she composed songs not only for moviemakers but also for politicians and for couples planning a wedding ceremony.
She also became a TV personality, presenting a cookery programme and other appearances on stations like Farin Wata TV and NTA Hausa.
One of her notable productions in recent years, according to Fim magazine, was an album of her new and old songs called ‘Babbar Jaka,” released in 2012. She also worked for a BBC radio drama production, recorded across several years in Abuja, in which she played the voice of children.
Rabi Mustapha had the reputation of being a gentle and peaceable young woman amongst her colleagues. When her demise was announced, encomiums poured in in torrents. Mandawari, who was among the pioneers of the industry, said of her. “First of all I would say may Allah forgive her soul. Then, I knew her as a talented singer, which composing and singing songs. About eighty percent of the songs in my films were sung by her.
“When I gave her the scripts for the songs for ‘Bankwana’ for Fati it appeared as if it was Fati herself that sang them. She had a good character and respected her superiors.”
In mourning her in a Facebook post, Sani Mu’azu, a former president of the Motion Picture Practioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN), penned a tribute titled “The Rabi Mustapha I Know” a day after she died: “The 1st edition of Arewa Films Award, which we called the millennium award, was in 2000 at the Alliance Francaise, Kano, and I cannot remember it without the images of Rabi Mustapha. Young, dynamic stage diva, full of vocal vibrancy and strong stage presence.
“I put her on that stage and she didn’t fail me, enacting all my choreography moves effortlessly. A deviant of a sort, Rabi had worked with the Kano cultural troupe long before this meeting. And we linked as artists, often talking about her dreams, especially that video album that we never got to do.
“Rabi featured in some of my productions like ‘Tambaree’ and she was such an actor. Rabi’s life was a struggle in a society that cannot understand her. Her parents couldn’t and they married her out quick. Her husband couldn’t and he chased her out soon after. And to the stage she returned.
“Rabi gradually established her presence as one of the first Hausa background singers for movies with her wonderful vocals. She had the ability to act the role of a young boy in a development radio play.
“She was an aunty to many Hausa singers in Kano. When she bought a house to shelter her parents following her stints with the BBC WST, they accepted her and the society celebrated her.
“Rabi Mustapha was active as a mother, a wife, a breadwinner and an artist. She was last seen by me as the host of a TV cooking show… We miss you much but from Him we come and to Him shall we all return. May Allah grant you Rahma with Jannat firdaus. Ameen.”
Another industry stakeholder, Bashir Hassan, said: “I remember her then as the lone female singer when Kannywood had just started, very talented and fun to be with.” Her prayed to Allah to grant her soul repose.
Ibrahim Sheme, a journalist, writer and filmmaker, also said of her: “Rabi was hugely talented. She was also calm, humble and passionate for her work. I worked with her on the last two movies I produced. Her passing is a big loss to the industry. May Allah forgive her sins and grant eternal peace to her soul, amen.”
Two popular actors also paid their tributes. Abubakar Hayatu said: “She was a good human being, a wonderful person… hard working. We will miss her.” Abba El-Mustapha said: “History will remember her as a dedicated and prolific contributor to the growth of our beloved industry at large as someone who grappled with the challenges and left the scene a better place. We will mourn her till eternity.”
A day after Rabi died, the association of Hausa film lyricists known as Inuwar Fasaha held a prayer session in Kano in memory of the beloved diva. Readings from the Qur’an were made while prayers were said for the repose of her soul. Malam Mudassir Kasim opened the session with a tribute in which he expressed his sympathies to his fellow lyricists and prayed for her. One of her close associates, the singer known as Salisun Fati, told the gathering: “Rabi and I related very well on the issues of singing for three years. In that period, I came to realise that she knew how to relate well with people, and she was so patient. I, therefore, pray to Allah to forgive her.”
Another popular singer, Sadiq Zazzabi of the ‘Abuja Ta Yi Tsaf’ fame, pointed out that the prayer session was an important contribution to the diva’s journey in eternity, hoping that she would find peace in the hereafter. A well-known actor, Nura Hussaini, urged other industry stakeholders to improve their conduct in order to find comfort after their sojourn on earth, while Isma’il Na’abba (Afakallahu) delivered a long homily on the issue of the fear of God in anything that one does.
Many personalities in the industry, especially from its Kano hub, were in attendance. They included Malam Khalid, Ali Isa Jita, Mahmud Nagudu, Salisu Mariri, Jamila Sadi, and Adam M. Adam. Every one of them had one good thing or the other to say about the late Rabi, especially her relation with others.
No doubt, the industry had lost one of its best, and that was easily seen in the tributes that poured in for her.