Tag Archives: South Africa

THE ADZE UGAH INTERVIEW

Adze Ugah is one of Africa’s finest filmmakers whose artistic vision is responsible for some of the most widely followed productions in South Africa and indeed across Africa. What separates the grain from the proverbial chaff as pertains  Ugah is his growing repertoire of television and film helming productions such as Society II and III, Zone 14, Tshisa II, Skwizas II, My Perfect Family II, Isibaya, Room 9 within the context of an environment that is generally hostile to African immigrants. A past Best Achievement in Directing – TV Soap winner for Isibaya in the South African Film and Television Awards, Ugah is a pioneering Nigerian creative plying his trade in South Africa.    His critically acclaimed pan African television series Jacob’s Cross is perhaps his crowning achievement in a glittering film career in terms of forging pan African relations. The 2008 documentary The Burning Man garnered international notice and earned several awards.His first feature film Gog’Helen was released in late 2012 and he is currently involved in various stages of production of other film and television projects. This creative visionary is a little lauded articulate giant of African film. Culture Beat Africa editor Addy Kudita manages to prise him away from his busy schedule for an insightful one on one.

CBA: How did you get your break in the cut throat world of television, it’s cut throat isn’t it?

ADZE UGAH: Every industry is cut throat, but for one to make it in TV and film, I feel one must always start with believing that one has something to offer.So it is not about entering the industry with the notion of what one can get out of it. I lived, breathed and ‘slept’ film and TV.Everyone around me could see it.So after film school in Nigeria, I sought to increase my knowledge base, and that’s what led me to do my honours in SA. After graduating, I sought more knowledge by volunteering to be a trainee for little or no pay on the film and TV sets.As long as it meant I could learn more about making TV and film from a practical perspective without having to pay for it.It was very hard considering that I had no support system in SA and relied on just the kindness of God and others for survival. And those who allowed me to work as a trainee could see my potential in even the most menial of film and TV functions and just saw it fit to assign bigger responsibilities to me.When the time came, that’s what happened and that’s how I started. It all began with Home affairs and the producer of Home affairs, Roberta Durant, for seeing that potential and giving me that opportunity.

CBA: Can you recall for me some of the projects you have worked on aside from famous ones such as Zone 14 and others such as Society which I enjoyed thoroughly?

ADZE UGAH: My first work experience in SA Television was on a SABC 1 show called Home affairs, as a trainee assistant director. I recall being nervous when it was time to apply for a work permit to work on that show because I thought the department of Home affairs might think we were making a show about them and be worried about being shown in a negative light on TV and maybe refuse the permit. But the show had nothing to do with the department.In a way; it was like Society, just about the four disparate lives of women living in SA. I then went to work as an assistant director on an SABC 2 show called Heartlines that was where I met Angus Gibson, the creator/director of Yizo Yizo. He also directed the Oscar nominated documentary on Mandela and he has since been my mentor. He was intrigued by my passion for movies and TV. He then invited me to meet his business partner and producer Desiree Markgraaf. At the time they were creating a pan African series for MNET, and they invited me to contribute to the project. It went on to become the acclaimed pan-African series that we know today as Jacob’s Cross, and I became one of the anchor directors of the show. Since then I have done Tshisa season three, some episodes of Room 9, the supernatural detective series set in a future dystopian South Africa. I have done some episodes of the sitcom, My Perfect Family and Skwizas. Also directed an anti xenophobia Mfolozi Street and have directed feature films for SA cinema such as Gog Helen, Mrs Right Guy, and 10 Days in Sun City.

CBA: As a migrant, what obstacles did you have to overcome to get to a place where you could “eat” from the craft?

ADZE UGAH: Firstly for me, it wasn’t about what and where I could “eat”, I was about what I could give others to “eat”, even though at the time I virtually had nothing, but I had my ideas, my point of view on things, my creativity, i had my vision and my passion and that’s what I believe created the opportunities for me

CBA: Did you train in S.A. or Nigeria and how did you cut your teeth in the business?

ADZE UGAH: My first degree in film was from Nigeria, at the National Film Institute, in Jos. I was able to make one film after I graduated with money from my parents and I used my family as the cast.The film went on to win some awards in Nigeria at that time but didn’t really make me any money.But it was a great learning curve that led to the desire to seek more knowledge in making films.

CBA: What kind of a premium do you think as Africans are placing on our own narratives?

ADZE UGAH: Not nearly enough as we should, other countries like Asia, Europe and the Americas see their narratives as a commodity.For them their art and culture and entertainment is not just a government mandate, it is big business. It is something to invest in and to export to other nations. It grows their economy and shapes their identities -the best of both worlds as far as I am concerned. It’s about time Africans saw it as more than just stories told round a fire place or under a tree or just a novelty. It is big business.

CBA: What in your opinion is the importance of story telling from a developmental point of view?

ADZE UGAH: Story telling shapes emotions, identity and consciousness.America has used it to colonize the world, advance its notions and ingrained itself into the global psyche. We have the same opportunity to do like wise.

CBA: What stories do you believe need to be told more insistently about Africa?

ADZE UGAH: Historical ones for starters and even contemporary ones.

CBA: How do you view issues around xenophobia?

ADZE UGAH: Just like any other malady, you can’t endorse something that every one agrees it is a social ill. Even those who are xenophobic know that it is a negative attitude, and just like any other social ill, it is mostly fueled by ignorance and the only way to counter ignorance is to inform and educate.That’s why platforms like film and TV become very important.  I meant,  I directed an anti-xenophobia documentary called The Burning Man, and feature films for SA cinema such as Gog helen, Mrs Right Guy, 10 days in Sun City.

CBA: The work of yours that I have seen tends to have a gritty realism to it. The characters tend to be the most interesting ones and a good example are the Zone 14 ones such as Spinach…Do you deliberately seek out scripts with strong memorable characters?

ADZE UGAH: I think i have just been lucky to work with people who are also drawn to the same issues as I am. That’s what it’s really all about at the end of the day.

CBA: What are currently working on?

ADZE UGAH:  I am working on Isibaya at the moment and working towards releasing a feature film in 2018

CBA: Are you eating from this?

ADZE UGAH: I think it’s more important that I know others can eat from the projects I am work on first and foremost.That is the only thing that guarantees that I can also eat from it eventually.

CBA: What inspires you personally?

ADZE UGAH: Good films, good books and good television series, but most of all the human experience in all its permutations mostly inspire me.

South African hip hop artist Cassper earns legend status

As if filling up a 20 000 seater Coca Cola Dome in Soweto or a 60 000 seater Orlando stadium is a stroll in the veld, try this for size : Cassper filled up a 90 000 seater football stadium in addition to those feats ! Well not quite ; though he did sell 72 000 tickets and brought throngs of excited fans along for the history making show.Few African artists have been stadium fillers. This is a rarified space which has in the past been inhabited by international acts such as Bruce Springsteen and Eminem.

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Cassper’s feat has earned him the respect of peers and entertainment industry elders such as the legendary impresario of the African house music and the power behind the careers of pan African groups such as Mafikizolo, Bongomaffin and Boomshaka DJ Oskido (real name Oscar Mdlongwa, the boss of Kalawa Jazmee)

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Cassper was born Refiloe Maele Phoolo into a middle class South African family. Dropping out of school at 16 to pursue his music dream in the bright lights of Johannesburg must have sounded like a nightmare to his teacher parents.The odds seemed bleak… On Saturday night 68 000 fans turned up for the spectacular show that has helped the 27 year old hip hop artist and boss of independent label Family Tree Records make history. Perhaps reminiscing about his days paying his dues as a backing dancer for popular hip hop artists of the day such as HHP (whom he paid homage to before the pumped up crowd),  Cassper ‘kinged’ it. But did he ever think that one day he would be compared with the likes of Bruce Springsteen in the annals of pop music history as a big stadium drawcard?

Theatre of dreams

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The venue of last Saturday’s concert was the architectural masterpiece that is the FNB stadium which played host to the 2010 World Cup final. An aerial view of the stadium reveals an inspirational and evocative design achievement in the calabash design of the stadium. The very idea of a design inspired by African motifs and iconography is fundamental to the proliferation and proper monetisation of African cultural artefacts and Art in general. The Nyovest gig has been hailed by the country’s Arts Minister Nathi Mthethwa:  “On behalf of @ArtsCultureSA I wish you all the best as you make your mark and start a new chapter in South Africa’s music history tonight. You continue to inspire future generations of African musicians to be limitless in their pursuit of excellence”and for “using his platform to encourage the youth to preserve and promote African arts and culture.”

The path to glory

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The campaign to fill up the stadium ran for several months on social media mainly.Corporate support for the gig was begging initially till right upto the very last moment. Cassper was on social media grumbling about how “they dont want to support us” in refernce to corporate South Africa. In an interview with DJ Sbu (another serious entrepreneur owner of the MoFaya energy drink and Massiv Metro radio station) Cassper broke down the total cost of the show which saw him go broke as per his own word and selling four Rolex watches. Of course that fact alone I found bemusing considering the lot of Zimbo musicians. A Rolex watch can set you back close to R60 000 per piece. Still, Cassper claimed in the interview that it would cost him 15 million rand to put the show together. It cost 2 million rand to book stadium, 5,2million rand for the stage design ( by a company based in Cape Town), 1 million rands for traditional marketing and 500 000 rands for supporting acts.

It takes a village to raise an African child

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For a moment, it seemed that Cassper was going it alone but for the support of the likes of famous house music don Oskido of Kalawa Jazmee records, fellow rapper Riky Rik, Black Coffee and other celebs such as actress Pearl Thusi who came out in support buying tickets. Oskido bought R50 000 worth of tickets whilst Riky Rik bought R20 000 worth of tickets. All of sudden, the campaign for the show reached a groundswell and the corporate world jumped in. Ciroc, Budweiser, SABC. South Africa’s Department of Arts and Culture and Standard Bank came on board to help underwrite the gig. Standard Bank actually broke protocol by sponsoring a gig at rival bank branded stadium.

Business comes to the party

The corporate head of retail marketing Tinyiko Mageza at Standard Bank offered his sentiments about the Cassper gig: “Cassper Nyovest has challenged young South Africans to unapologetically chase their next big dreams, their next big deals and their next big wins, and we are inspired and excited to be part of this adventure. For Standard Bank it doesn’t matter where your NEXT may happen or how big it may seem, we really just want to be a partner as you steer your life to greatness.” The Standard Bank involved an undisclosed amount of money plus extensive marketing support and advertising. The bank also gave away free tickets that it had bought to fans. Incidentally, Standard Bank has a promotional campaign entitled ‘What’s Your Next?’“We are here to support a young African artist, Cassper Nyovest, to show that anything is possible.We are here to show that no matter how big or audacious, bold or daring your next step is you can really make it happen if you have the right partners co-piloting with you and helping you stir your life to greatness.As a country, we followed Cassper’s journey from one ‘next’ to the other For us it represented the epitome of what a ‘next’ is all about. As a bank, in May we put our hands up and asked the question to all South Africans, ‘What is your next?’,” said Mageza.

A night to remember

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The stage with two giant lions flanking it was designed by Daniel Popper a Cape Town based artist. The lighting was superlative and worthy of a galaxy of African stars who take their Art seriously. The show included a Somizi Mhlongo choreographed 50 dancer show piece by Cassper alone. Some of South Africa’s top artistes Kwesta, Major League,Babes Wodumo, current hit makers Distruction Boyz, DJ Tira, (Zimbabwean rapper )Nadia Nakai, Somizi, Riky Rick and Tshepo Tshola featured to help make the show a grand musical affair. They didn’t need American musical imports to fill the stadium on this Saturday night and the tag line of Brand South Africa- Proudly South African was totally earned. Hit after hit was churned out by Cassper and his coterie of fellow artists with songs such as ‘Mama I made it’, ‘Tito Mboweni’ and others by Babes Wodumo thrilling the multi-ethnic and multi-racial fans.The generation of artists such as Cassper is clearly standing on the shoulders of giants that have gone before him such as the late Lucky Dube and Miriam Makeba.

Has Cassper Nyovest not given South African audiences a moment of showbiz magic with his recent FillUpTheFNB concert? Has he not rewritten the script for African artists in the process in terms of how far to reach when pursuing the singular goal of global fame?
Apparently, Cassper calls him himself  Mufasa – Lion king. Is he the lion of African pop culture ? Pundits would be hard pressed to deny him the title especially if he pulls off the #FillUpMosesMabhidha gig he is now eyeing for 2018.