Africans tell their own stories
Services like Afrostream and BET are beginning to expose international audiences to acclaimed African dramas. But, for the most part, this vast continent remains a mystery. This week we look at a few of the most interesting scripted shows to have aired in Africa in recent years – and the creative talent behind them.
Rhythm City: A South African show that premiered on e.tv in 2007, Rhythm City’s storyline focuses on the seedy underbelly of the music industry. With an audience in excess of two million, it continues to be hugely popular – despite the fact it has racked up more than 1,000 episodes to date. The show is produced by Quizzical Pictures and has used numerous writers down the years. The two who have the most writing credits to their names are Charlie Sapadin and Neil McCarthy. Sapadin is an American, who worked across numerous successful dramas during a 13-year stay in South Africa beginning in 2002. McCarthy, meanwhile, counts series like Hopeville and Mazansi among his credits.
Generations: SABC’s iconic soap has been on air since 1994 and is now approaching the 500-episode mark. It ran into problems in 2014 because of a cast strike, resulting in a hiatus in production. The show returned after a break of a few months with a new cast and a new title (Generations: The Legacy). After a brief negative reaction from viewers, it soon got back on track and now has an audience of around eight million. The show was created and produced by Mfundi Vundla, who has been with it from the start. Vundla also created Backstage in 2000, a precursor to Rhythm City.
Tinsel: One of the top dramas on African TV, Tinsel is a Nigerian soap based around two film studios. Launched in 2008 and shot in Lagos, it airs on pay TV broadcaster M-Net Africa and Nigerian terrestrial TV. The show, which is currently up to around 1,600 episodes, was created by Yinka Ogun and is written by a team including Ogun, Kemi Adesoye, Uju Asika and Tunde Babalola.
An African City: This is a TV and web series created as a Ghanaian equivalent of Sex and the City. The first episode debuted in March 2014 on YouTube and a second season followed in January 2016. Created by Nicole Amarteifio, the show follows the lives of five single women of African descent who have recently resettled in Ghana after living abroad for most of their lives. Amarteifio outlined the show’s origins to CNN: “I wanted something for African women, something for us and by us. I was tired of the sole narrative of the African woman being about poverty and disease. I wanted to see another narrative – one of beauty, glamor and intelligence. I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t keep complaining about the problem.”
Shuga: Originally filmed in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Shuga first aired on MTV Base as part of an initiative called MTV Staying Alive Ingite. The story of young risk-takers, the show’s handling of subjects such as rape, transactional sex and homosexuality proved controversial with the older audience but popular among young viewers. It became a hit in 40 African countries and has also aired outside the continent on channels such as BET in the US. After two seasons in Kenya, the show moved to Nigeria. Writing on the series has been a group effort, with Kemi Adesoye, Ayoade Adeyanju, Victor Sanchez Aghahowa, Omotunde Akiode, Tunde Aladese, Biyi Bandele and Amanda Lane all credited. Bandele, who also directed Shuga, subsequently moved onto a project called Fifty, about four Nigerian women at the pinnacles of their careers. Bandele wrote and directed Fifty, while Adesoye was on board as a writer. UK-based Bandele is also a novelist and playwright.
The Samaritans: This is a clever mockumentary that satirises the development sector by following the daily goings-on at a fictitious NGO called Aid for Aid. The project is the brainchild of Kenyan Hussein Kurji, who raised money via a Kickstarter campaign and, ironically, an NGO. You can see Kurji talking about the project here.
Scandal: This South African soap has attracted millions of viewers on e.tv and across the Africa continent. The storyline revolves around different characters connected to a newspaper called The New Voice and a magazine called Scandal. Charlie Sapadin was involved in the writing, as were the likes of Anthony Akerman, Zaheer Bhyat, Craig Gardner, David Gordon and Genna Lewis. Akerman also worked on e.TV’s Rhythm City, while Bhyat’s credits include the 2012 comedy series Rugby Motors.
The Wild: Created by Rohan Dickson, Richard Nosworthy and Bronwyn Berry, The Wild was an entirely location-filmed show that ran for two seasons in 2011/2012. The M-Net series was set at an exclusive game lodge in a remote rural area. Although it was praised for its ambition, it proved too costly. Theo Erasmus, M-Net director of media operations, said at the time: “M-Net ascertained that the monies allocated to The Wild, which is a high-cost production due to the fact that it’s a location-based soap, could be spent on other productions that could possibly produce better ratings in a shorter period of time. Soaps take many months to build an audience, while other genres may produce higher ratings quicker. The ratings of The Wild have been growing steadily month on month, but not in line with the vast investment.” Berry is better known as a producer, with recent credits including factual series Durban Beach Rescue and aforementioned drama Scandal.
Umlilo: This is another e.tv/Quizzical scripted partnership, which is set against the backdrop of a polygamous family. Although Umlilo stopped airing after four seasons in September 2016, it was very popular and won a host of awards at the 2016 South African Film and Television Awards. The key writer on the show was Alex Burger, who has written for numerous South African productions including Hard Copy. American Burger is also a playwright with productions including Fees Must Fall, The Inkanyamba and Whose Blood.
Inkaba: Created by John Kani and produced by Urban Brew Studios, Inkaba was conceived in the style of a telenovela. Set in the world of fashion, Inkaba had two love stories at its core: a past relationship between a fierce patriarch and two of his loves, and the current relationships between their respective children. Kani is actually better known as an actor – and starred in this show. He has also appeared in international film and TV productions like Captain America: Civil War and Wallander.