'Purple Rain' -- As Retold In A Language Without A Word For Purple

by NPR Staff

Actor Mdou Moctar in Tuareg 'Purple Rain' remake
Mdou Moctar is a local star among the Tuareg, based in the city of Agadez. Happily, Prince's iconic purple motorcycle also survived the translation. (Courtesy of Christopher Kirkley)
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In 1984, Prince was on top of the world, with a No. 1 album and later a No. 1 movie, both named Purple Rain.

Little did Prince know then how widely his projects' influence would spread, or the ways in which they might translate — literally. Three decades after the film first premiered, it got a remake filmed in Niger, featuring members of a nomadic group of people known as the Tuareg.

It's called Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai -- which translates to "Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It." That's because there's no word for "purple" in Tamajeq, the language spoken by the Tuareg.

Like the original, this version of Purple Rain, directed by Christopher Kirkley, tells the story of a guitarist and songwriter who battles his musical rivals, his conservative father — and eventually, his own ego. Those struggles are every bit as resonant in Niger's desert community as they were in Prince's Minneapolis. Over the past few decades, a vibrant new music scene has exploded among the Tuareg. Bootlegged cassette tapes of artists like Jimi Hendrix and Dire Straits have been traded and retraded across the Sahara.

"This guitar-based, heavily blues-influenced music is now essentially pop music for the Tuareg community," Kirkley says.

Local star Mdou Moctar plays the Prince role. And in the end — spoiler alert! -- he beats his rival in a battle of the bands. Moctar's show-stopper sounds a little different from Prince's, though. Also different: The risque love story of the 1984 original underwent some changes with actors from a conservative Muslim background.

"We obviously couldn't do a kiss on the screen," Kirkley says. "We even had problems with a hug. I thought, 'Well, maybe we can just end the film with the two of you hugging,' and they said no."

The remake is currently playing the film-festival circuit, but he's still waiting for one person in particular to buy a ticket.

"We haven't heard from Prince yet," Kirkley says. "I'm hoping that if and when we do, it's, uh, it's a positive experience."

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