Interview
Courtesy of Ladysmith Black Mambazo

In Conversation with Ladysmith Black Mambazo: "Each time we sang for the Apartheid police, they would let us go."

The Grammy award-winning South African traditional music group talks about singing during the Apartheid era, collaborating with Dolly Parton and giving back to the music community.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo is an internationally-acclaimed traditional music group which has been around since the 1960s and was founded by the late Joseph Shabalala. The group's five decade-long career in the traditional sounds of isicathamiya and mbube, has earned them a total of five Grammys—a musical feat that no single South African artist or group has ever achieved. Last year, they took home the Grammy for Best World Music Album.

They have been instrumental in documenting the changing political landscape of South Africa from the racially segregated Apartheid era, the imprisonment of numerous struggle veterans to the victories and challenges of the country's fledgling democracy.

Their song "Homeless" is perhaps their most well-known record to date and their collaboration with Paul Simon on his Graceland album during the 80s, catapulted them into the international limelight and opened the way for them to work with the likes of Oliver Mtukudzi, Hugh Masekela, Stevie Wonder and Josh Groban. They have released over 50 studio albums to date and show no signs of slowing down as the older members pass the baton onto Shabalala's sons. From having performed for the Queen of England to the late anti-Apartheid struggle veteran and icon, Nelson Mandela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo have irrefutably solidified their place in music's great hall of fame.

They are currently performing at South Africa's biggest National Arts Festival in Makhanda at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival.

We spoke to one of the group's long-time members, Albert Mazibuko, about the musical legacy of the group and some of the exciting projects they're currently working on.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


You've been around since the 1960s. Do you think that your music has conveyed all you could have hoped it would?

Yes it did. Our aim from the beginning was to encourage South African people, especially the young people, that they have talent and are free to use their indigenous music and not try to be somebody else. Often they don't trust that if they are simply themselves, they can succeed. On the other hand, we have many people that have been influenced by our music, even those people who are not singing isicathamiya music specifically. But if you listen to maskandi these days, it's Ladysmith Black Mambazo's style with the addition of guitars. There are groups like The Soil that have also been inspired by us.

I think that a part of our mission has been completed, but we've said that we still have to motivate up-coming artists as well. Hence, we just launched our awards show where we're trying to influence people and give them hope that if you are true to your culture and you do it right, you can achieve a lot.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Homeless Live www.youtube.com

Speaking about the Isicathamiya Awards that you have recently launched, how has that experience been for the group and your desire to give back to the music community?

This is the beginning of a new dream for Ladysmith Black Mambazo. When we would sit among ourselves, we'd sometimes joke about this. We said we wanted these awards to be big like the Grammys. The Grammys are too big but they say in life you have to aim higher because we want these awards to recognize all those people who have come before us, encourage those who have been sustaining the music industry and also those who are still coming. Just to show them that if you are doing something well, people notice.

It's all about fulfilling a dream that Joseph Shabalala had. He said that he wanted to build a school that would teach indigenous music but because that didn't happen, we came up with something we call Ladysmith Black Mambazo Mobile Academy where we go to existing schools to encourage the young people.

What have been the highlights thus far, the moments that have simply taken your breath away?

Wow. You know, it's very difficult to just name one group or two or three, but I can say that when we collaborated with Paul Simon, that was a time that we said to ourselves "Wow, is this doable?" And then after that so many artists came. The one that we always enjoy when we are talking was when we collaborated with Dolly Parton.

We heard that she wanted us to be on a song with her when we were in New York. It was amazing because Dolly Parton is a great fan and our wives used to play her music to us all the time. We took many pictures with her and when we came back home, we showed our wives. After that, we asked her to be a part of our recording the album called Heavenly. She was so humble and we were blessed to work with her.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Knocking on Heavens Door www.youtube.com

Are there still artists on your wishlist in terms of collaborations?

Yes. We still want to collaborate with young artists. Whether they do house music or even amapiano, we still wish to collaborate with those artists. We see that they have great talent but that they forget that what they've got is so big. We want to be next to them and encourage them when they write their music—music that is going to empower people. That's why we are always happy when a young artist comes to us and says, "I want to make a song with you." I used to say to them that we are the only people in the world that have an opportunity to address kings and queens because we can stand on a stage and convey our message and it doesn't matter who's listening.

How would you say you've documented both the South African and the broader African political scenes in your music over the years?

Music is always political. We politicized our music in a way that wouldn't make somebody angry but make them aware of what is wrong and what is right. Our song "Nkosi Yamakhosi" which means the "King of Kings", that was one of the late Nelson Mandela's favorite songs. This song was asking for peace and asking God to help us build a peaceful nation.

There was a very violent period in South Africa. "Ngeke Bayiqede" was a song addressing the fighting among the political organizations in South Africa, especially between the ANC and IFP. In the song we talk about how you cannot fight somebody until you finish them, the fighting will continue. The best way is to sit down and solve your problems.

There's another song that Joseph also wrote that spoke about not killing your mother and father because you don't agree with them politically. You only have them in this world. The best way is to protect them and if you see your idea is better than theirs, try to influence them but in a respectful way.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Abezizwe ngeke bayiqede www.youtube.com

Was it difficult for you as musicians to communicate these powerful messages during Apartheid South Africa?

You know, our difficulty was traveling because at that time, you had to be in one particular city or town. I remember the ID reference book called a dompas that we had to carry with us all the time. Each area had a number assigned to it so when the police would open it, they would say, "You are allowed to be in 154 but now you are in 150. You have to be arrested because you crossed the boundary." For us, that was a challenge.

I remember every time we were stopped by the police, they would ask us where we were going and what we did for a living. Joseph always said to them, "Okay, let us show you what we do," and then we would sing for them. After we sang for them, they would let us go. Someone advised us to go to the magistrate and seek permission to travel. When we got there and sang, he said, "Okay, I can hear the beautiful music you are doing and it seems peaceful." So they gave us permission. We were the first group in South Africa to have the permission to travel around.

From the 1960s till now, members have come and gone. What would you say is the key to staying relevant, particularly in this day and age?

I think it is because Joseph came to us with this message: "Let's dedicate ourselves and our lives, and do our best to develop this music." So we cannot settle for less and are always trying to do our best. Any member that joins and has joined Ladysmith Black Mambazo knows that if they are here, they are not here just to do the music but they have a bigger mission that they have to fulfill as well.

Courtesy of Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Are there any exciting musical projects that you guys are working on for this year?

We just finished recording an album which is going to be released in late September. When I think about it, I get very excited because the 12 songs have been written by Joseph's sons. It's going to be the first Ladysmith Black Mambazo album that's going to be written by them and I'm so satisfied, so glad. I think they wrote wonderful music.

Another thing that Ladysmith Black Mambazo has been so fortunate to be a part of, is a play happening in Chicago. We were invited there to write the music for this play. We will sing the music and then we will also be acting. We are very excited. Toward the end of July, we're going to go there, do some workshop and come back. In October, we're going to go back and we might be there until December or January. Of course, there's also the Joy of Jazz festival taking place soon.

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Photo Credit: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Woolmark International Pty Ltd

Mmuso Maxwell Designers on Winning the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation

We met up with Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko, the duo behind South African brand Mmuso Maxwell. We spoke about their upbringing, winning the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, and more.

After a two year internship with veteran South African designer David Tlale, Mmuso Maxwell was born. The brand, founded by the young duo Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko, has since established a name for themselves in the African fashion industry. With successful works with A-list artists like Beyoncé — on her Black is King album — they continue to set the bar on what it means to be a successful emerging designer brand.

The duo first started to make noise in 2017, when they won the South Africa’s Fashion Week’s Sunglass Hut New Talent Search. Two years later, they came second at the 30 Under 30: The New Stars Arise Fashion Show competition held in Lagos, Nigeria. The duo walked home with $50,000, helping them establish their presence on a global landscape.

Last month, Potsane and Boko won the biggest award of their career: beating out 200 designers throughout the world, they took home the The Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, after presenting a Merino wool collection for their Autumn/Winter 2022 line.

After their big win, OkayAfrica was able to meet up with the duo and chat about their upbringing, winning the Lagerfeld Award, and more.

How would you describe your Mmuso Maxwell brand?

Maxwell Boko: I think that the perfect description of our brand is that it is inspired by African heritage, but, the most important part is that it is mixed with contemporary culture. It’s basically our point of view of our heritage. We’re modern young people who are living with technology and science, and are influenced by those things. So even if it’s still our African heritage, it’s still our own interpretation.

Mmuso Potsane: Our brand is a modern interpretation of who an African woman is. Our brand sees itself as a global brand, and we do not want to limit it to look like an ordinary African brand, but it is positioned to be like a global brand, while maintaining our African roots, interpretations and experiences.

How did the collaboration between the both of you start?

Potsane: We met during the internship from 2015-2017. At the end of the internship, we decided to bring our pieces together to make one collection because we had similar aesthetics. From there, we just decided to continue onwards as a brand.

That’s interesting. You know, the fashion industry can most times be more competition than collaboration. How are you navigating the times you might have contrasting ideas?

Boko: I think that the reason why we joined forces together is because we had similar tastes in general. What has worked for us over the five years is that we’re not dramatic about our approach to things. It’s not “this or nothing." We’re always open to each other's critiques. We also do not question our individual strengths at all.

Potsane: Yeah, we’ve sort of found a way to agree to disagree. We have somehow found a way to come together to have one vision and objection. So for us, if any of us feels strongly about something, we just give it a chance to see how it plays out. If it doesn’t, we find a way to navigate it.

Mmuso Maxwell designers with Saul Nash

Saul Nash, winner of the International Woolmark Prize, and Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko of Mmuso Maxwell, winners of the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, celebrate with models wearing their designs.

Photo Credit: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Woolmark International Pty Ltd

How about winning the Woolmark Karl Lagerfeld Innovation Award? How did that happen?

Boko: I mean, we applied, even though I said to Mmuso that Woolmark is something that’ll happen to us, maybe two, three years down the line, and that’s because it’s generally for established designers. I always figured that it’ll happen at a later date for us. So when they reached us to inform us that we were finalists, I thought, “that’s crazy.”

When I saw the other finalists, I thought that there was no chance to win; But as we progressed in the program, I saw why it was the right time for us. It helped us as a brand in terms of making our products. The eight months were very challenging, but the thing that I enjoyed the most was working with local artisans. I think that it’s even one of the reasons we won.

And just on the side, I think it’s very hard for us to see from inside how much of a big deal winning the award is. It’s always our loyal people who help us see and understand it.

How has winning this prize influenced your brand? I mean, how important do you think platforms like this are?

Potsane: I think it’s important because it allows you access to spaces in the industry that are very out of reach for a lot of African brands. It influences and helps us to think more/differently, and just on that level, play by the rules. You’re no longer thinking locally, but internationally. It’s made us more serious about our business and how to run it. People take your work more seriously, so that makes you take it more seriously too.

In terms of funding, it’s something that’s been a struggle. I mean, as a designer, you have to showcase your work and that requires a lot of money for stuff like shows, showrooms, and so on. With the help that we’re getting from the people like Birimian — some sort of investment group for African brands — it helps you ease the stress this induces.

And what are some of the challenges you’ve faced during this? Are there ways you’re now navigating it?

Boko: When we started our brand, there was no initial capital for us to start our brand. But we got a little support, and that made our next challenge be sustaining our coming collections; but recently, our major challenge has been fabric sourcing and production. There are no facilities to produce the quality we aspire to.

Potsane: To navigate these challenges, we really just go with it one step at a time, and also speak with those who can assist with things like this, such as Birimian. In terms of production, we have to come to a compromise to ensure getting the quality we want.

You're a sustainable brand. What are some of the practices you’re doing that makes it sustainable?

Potsane: We utilize local crafts and local artisans. It’s something we’ve always been passionate about since we started our brand. We use homegrown yarns for production, and working with artisans makes us follow the route of slow fashion.

Boko: We’ve always had an affinity for natural fibers since we started. As an African creative, you’re inherently sustainable because we’re not prone to waste. It’s not something we can afford. When we buy fabrics, we buy exactly what we need, and all the things we’ve done so far have been in pre-orders. We do not produce with hopes that someone will buy what we’ve made. All pieces go to our clients.

Are there creatives that inspire the work that you do?

Potsane: The people that inspire our brand, we already currently work with. So people like Tatenda Chidora, a photographer. We also love Tony Gum. She’s an amazing artist. Same as Chloe Andrea and Daniel Obasi. We totally love these people, and are highly inspired by them.

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The 'Silverton Siege' Soundtrack is the Sound of Resistance

Netflix's new film Silverton Siege features a varied and impressive soundtrack that grounds the film with tone and character.

At the end of Silverton Siege, Netflix's new original movie, the gun-toting duo of Calvin (Thabo Rametsi) and Terra (Noxolo Dlamini) walk fearlessly towards the open bank doors for another standoff with the police. They knew their fate was death.

The scene drowns in alarming red lights, then cuts to black with the sound of gunfire. Zamo Mbutho’s "Asimbonanaga" plays next; the song is a mournful acapella invoking the mood of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.


Directed by South African filmmaker Mandla Dube, Silverton Siege features a soundtrack that grounds the film with tone and character. These songs are forged in an African revolutionary consciousness. From Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat anthem "Zombie" to Philip Miller’s "Hamba Kahle Umkhonto." In the case of South Africa, they re-enchant the role songs played in galvanizing people against apartheid.

The Silverton siege was a flashpoint in the movement for Nelson Mandela’s release. In 1980s South Africa, anti-apartheid freedom fighters — Wilfred Madela, Humphrey Makhubu, Stephen Mafoko — aborted their planned sabotage mission at Watloo’s petrol depots and were on the run from the police. They hunkered down at Volkskas Bank in Silverton, Pretoria, where they held 25 civilians hostage.

In the film, Calvin is the de facto leader of the group, negotiating for safe passage out of the bank. The officer in charge, Langerman (Arnold Vosloo), reluctantly agrees to the demand and sends a helicopter manned by a solo driver. It’s a trap, though. Without their knowledge, the pilot Sechaba (Tumisho Masha) is going to deliver the group to the police once he’s been informed of their destination.

Fela’s "Zombie" starts to play when the trio, with a hostage taken along, leave the bank and head for the chopper. What transpires afterwards is the group knowing they have been set up. Sechaba is pulling out a gun when he’s preempted by Calvin. He’s disarmed, struck in the face and forced out of the chopper, then manhandled back to the bank along with the group.

Released in 1976, "Zombie" criticizes the military as tools of oppression by the Nigerian government. It strikes a parallel to the helicopter scene. Sechaba, a Black South African, is an asset of the police. By extension, he’s in service for the white ruling class aiding the capture of the freedom fighters. What’s teachable here is that in the process of fighting oppression, the enemy doesn’t always look like those in power, but could be anyone from the grass-root.

Although they look like the oppressed, these people aren’t committed to revolutionary warfare or liberation. Their orders come from above. The next time we hear another song in the background, it is Chicco Twala’s "I Need Some Money." The scene finds Calvin and Aldo pushing out trolleys stacked with cash in the bank’s main hall. Soundtracking the scene with this song diffuses the tension, inverting the serious stakes with its shangaan-disco liveliness.

"I Need Some Money" was released in 1986, and it was the first hit from the South African artist and producer. What does it mean to need money during this time? The global economic crisis didn’t spare South Africa, with rising inflation, unemployment and weakening of its currency. But Calvin isn’t interested in the money. This is another inversion that occurs. An economic downturn in the country where seeking material provisions would be justified is juxtaposed with the revolutionary mindset of his group.

The trolley is now outside the bank, where Terra and Calvin hold a Black American man at gunpoint. While Langerman tries to reason with them, the American pours fuel all over the trolley on orders from the duo. Engulfed with fire, Johnny Clegg and Juluka’s "Impi" comes on. Calvin walks sideways towards the press with their cameras and shouts, “Free Nelson Mandela!”

This shifts the trajectory of the story. Nelson Mandela was sent to prison in 1964 for treason and opposing the apartheid regime. The clamor for his release in the film is underscored by the sheer stature of Johnny Clegg, who wasn’t just a singer and songwriter but a huge figure in the fight against apartheid.

Silverton Siege woman gun

Photo Credit: Neo Baepi/Netflix

His band, Julukua, was one of his successful racially mixed groups. Off their second album, African Litany, which was released in 1981, Impi is Zulu for ‘’war.’’ His version of "Asimbonanaga" was made with his other band Savuka from their album Third World Child and was dedicated to political prisoners, especially Mandela.

Silverton Siege isn’t a film without a body count. Outside the bank demanding for the release of Mandela, Calvin and the bank supervisor Christine (Elaine Dekker) have put away their differences. Unfortunately, she’s shot by a rooftop sniper from the SWAT team.

"Hamba Khale Umkhonto" permeates this scene where she dies. It’s forlorn and mournful. When Silverton Siege —which was released on Freedom Day last month — ends, the sacrifice of the trio becomes symbolic for what comes later: freedom.


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Photo Credit: Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Image

5 Artists We Discovered at Frieze New York

From Ludovitch Nkoth to Cassi Nomandi, here are five amazing artists we took note of at the 2021 Frieze New York festival.

The best way to start Summer in New York City is with Frieze New York.

Celebrating it’s 10th anniversary in New York, with a legacy partner Deutsche Bank, the three day art extravaganza brings artists, collectors, and cultural purveyors from all over the world to Midtown Manhattan at the Shed to enjoy the various mediums of art on display.

We took some time to uncover the fair, noticing the artists with rich cultures and poignant narratives that drove a resonating message for the audience.

Here are five amazing artists we took note of at the 2021 Frieze New York festival.

1) Ludovitch Nkoth

Young and talented, Nkoth, 28, is a trailblazer with the eyes of an old soul. His work was carefully placed next to Cassi Nomandi, bringing forth rich textures and deep colors ranging from reds, blues, and yellows. Originally from Cameroon, Nkoth is inspired by his immigrant experience, using his wand to paint pictures of the black immigrants crossing overseas in the water pulling inspiration from family history, tradition, and the legacy of colonialism. Success is here for the young artist with most of his work sold out and exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, and London.

2) Luiz Roque

Paying tribute to marginalized cultures, Luiz Roque’s film, S, was an outlier at the fair. A film encapsulated in a dim lit room at the corner of the walkway, it created a mysterious darkness that resonated with a few viewers, though many were jaunted by the artist’s rawness of sexuality and queerness. The film kept us curious on what the voguing and vivid imagery meant to Roque. The artist’s 20 year tenure is an exploration of race, class, politics, ecology, modernism, and science fiction.

3) Cassi Nomandi

Originally from Mozambique, Cassi Nomandi, 34, is a woman with a sharp vision yet subtle hands. With her work, she creates a trance of raw emotion and pleasure. Nomandi studied Cinematography at the Academy of Art University San Francisco. She exhibited her first show in 2017 which put her on the map. In 2020, Cassi was commissioned by Vogue Italia to create the cover art for the magazine’s January 2020 Issue, fusing her love for fashion, photography, film, and cultural anthology.

4) Sydney Cain

San Francisco native Sydney Cain, 31, is a mythical being with over a decade of experience creating and expressing herself through art. We spoke with Sydney briefly to learn how it feels to show at a big fair such as Frieze. “It’s exciting to share work in the east coast being from the Bay Area. I want the work to resonate across the diaspora,” Cain said.

Cain drew on her bloodline and ancestry tapping into the things unseen leaning from lightness to darkness, erasing, subtracting, shifting dust away to define clarity for what she wants to convey in her art. Her energy, while drawing her pieces comes from her courageousness to dive into beings of mortality, expressing things that are stuck here in America, spirits that have our back. She is set to start at Yale studying her MFA this fall.

5) Barbara Wagner

Walking into the fair is the beautiful photo compilation by Wagner, hailing from Brazil. The installation catches your eye because of the humans in the shot, real and authentic, Wagner does a great job of bringing the essence of brazillian culture into the person cast. The installation, In Search of Fifth Element, was a show stopper and gave viewers a real glance at the real people of brazil.

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Photo Credit: Netflix

The Stars of 'Blood Sisters' Talk About Becoming Netflix's Biggest Hit

We sat down with Ini Dima-Okojie and Nancy Isime, the actors who brought life to Sarah and Kemi, to talk about shooting Blood Sisters, acting in Nollywood, what's next, and more.

Earlier this month, Netflix's "first original series" from Nigeria was released. The limited series, Blood Sisters directed by Biyi Bandele and Kenneth Gyang, follows two friends, Sarah (Ini Dima-Okojie) and Kemi (Nancy Isime), as they go on the run after the death of Sarah's fiance, Kola (Deyemi Okanlawon).

The show explores familial dysfunction, murder, the meaning of sisterhood, and how valuable friendships can be, with its central premise around domestic violence, a theme known to many.

Since its release, the four-part crime thriller has received praises, with Variety calling its first episode "explosive" and "hard-pressed to walk away." After its first week of release, the limited series sat at number nine on the list of most-watched TV shows globally, with over 11,070,000 hours of viewing, making it a first for Nigeria. This comes after Netflix’s first Nollywood film of the year —Chief Daddy — faced harsh criticisms from viewers and critics alike.

The success of Blood Sisters shows that cinematography isn’t the only selling point of Nollywood. And for Nollywood content to thrive on Netflix, there should be an investment in all areas, from the storytelling down to the marketing.

For Ini Dima-Okojie starring alongside some of Nollywood's big names — like Kate Henshaw, Ramsey Nouah, and Uche Jombo — was surreal because these are the people she watched growing up. "But when it came to filming, it didn't matter if you've been in the industry for just four years or 30 years," Dima-Okojie said. "All that mattered was everyone was ready to work."

Like Dima-Okojie, Nancy Isime also loved acting alongside them, even though it wasn't her first time working with some of them. "I was there for work and understood that it was bigger than just being Nancy Isime. It was me at work."

We sat down with Ini Dima-Okojie and Nancy Isime, the actors who brought life to Sarah and Kemi, to talk about what it was like behind the scenes, acting in Nollywood, what's next for them, and more.

Blood Sisters | Trailer | Netflix

What's one thing you learned while shooting this series?

Ini Dima-Okojie: One thing I learned for sure is that Nigeria is ready to tell its authentic stories to a global audience. We're not just prepared; we're capable of standing behind any industry. I could feel that from being on set, with the professionalism I encountered. I also learned that it is good to be kind, deliberate, and mindful of what people are going through because what we do has an impact.

Nancy Isime: For me, I learned it's possible to have good production in Nigeria. I've been blessed to be in a couple, and this was one of them. And it's a highlight so far. I also learned about the characters.

Nancy Isime,

Photo Credit: Nancy Isime,

What was it like playing your roles, and how did you get it?

Dima-Okojie: When I got the audition file for Sarah, I went on my knees and told God, "I want this." You can tell from the size alone, and I think that has happened to me only three times in my career because it doesn't often happen as an actor. A week or two after I sent in my audition tape, I got an email telling me to send another tape, but this time, it was for a different character, Timeyin. Altogether, I auditioned for Kemi, Sarah, and Timeyin.

I was so excited playing Sarah. I felt so lucky because, at the end of the day, an actor is only as good as the opportunities they are given. So playing Sarah had me go deep into the character, asking questions and putting myself into her shoes.

Isime: It was wonderful playing my role. I had gotten an email asking to read for Sarah, not for Kemi. So I made my tape and sent it in. Then, I was called in for a private audition and read through with everybody. However, I was called back and was told that Netflix wanted me to play Kemi, and I was like, "What is a Kemi?" Because I never read for her. So I was reluctant to accept because I didn't know who the character was and if she'd have the opportunity to show her acting range. But I took it, and when I read the script, I was like, "Yes, Kemi. Yes, baby, let's do this."

What was your favorite scene to film?

Dima-Okojie: My favorite scene? That's hard. I had so many unforgettable moments. However, I think one monumental period I'd like to pick on is probably when Sarah stood up to her abuser Kola and told him, "No!" because that was very big. She barely speaks up and is so used to being bullied, whether for good or bad, even in her beautiful friendship with Kemi, where she's always being told what to do. But in that scene, she had found the strength and was finally able to speak up, even though she knew what his reaction was going to be.

She spoke up for herself at that moment, and I think it was a huge moment for Sarah. It was a huge moment for people who may have experienced [domestic violence] because if there's one thing I realized from research, it didn't matter where people who are susceptible to abuse are from. Whether they were black or white, old or young, it was a triumph for Sarah and everyone going through any form of abuse.

Isime: I loved every single scene of playing Kemi because, as you noticed, there's no scene she's in that is a usual scene. In fact, no scene in Blood Sisters could have been done away with if you noticed because every scene is putting you on edge the entire time. Coming to set every day, I was like, "we're h-a-p-p-y," because yes, I was happy.

Ini Dima-Okojie wearing white sneakers

Photo Credit: Ini Dima-Okojie

What was the most challenging scene?

Dima-Okojie: For the challenging scene, I'll like to break it into physical and emotional parts. It was very physically challenging for Sarah. From when they decided to go on the run, physically, we were in Makoko, running all over the community, jumping from canoe to canoe. We also went to Epe, where we were barefooted. It was grueling as an actor and a character because this wasn't a fit character. Emotionally, I had to understand everything that Sarah was going through. I had to chip away from who I am as Ini to connect with what she was going through, which can be draining. But thank God I was surrounded by amazing people and directors who eased the process and were there to pick me up anytime I was down.

The series is a global hit on Netflix; how does that make you feel?

Dima-Okojie: Honestly, it's surreal. It makes me emotional half the time because, as a performer, all you want is for people to watch your work and for it to resonate. Being an actor, people see the glitz and the glam, but it's a lot of work. You chip away part of yourself to give a character life, but it's worth it.

Isime: Floating. Floating in a bubble, floating in gratitude. It feels so good. Imagine having 11 million hours of watch time in five days? It's no easy feat. I don't think any African show has been able to do that. So for that to come from Nigeria, and for me to be lead? I don't think I'll ever come down from this high that I'm on.

You are both a part of a new generation of Nollywood actors doing amazing if I say so myself. What is that like?

Dima-Okojie: Generally, I think being an actor in the world today is incredible. Nollywood has gone through much because we were in a time where we didn't have financing and institutionally there's no backing. So being able to be in a world today where everything is global, and I can do something here in Lagos, while people from Japan, Belgium, and Qatar, are sending texts telling me they watched me and loved it, I don't think there's a better time to act than now. It's a fantastic time to be a Nigerian actor.

Isime: It feels good to be recognized for something I'm passionate about and love. I feel blessed because Nollywood is bigger than I am. It goes beyond ego and wanting to be the best because we're all part of something way bigger than us. And I'm so happy to be able to contribute to this industry, leave my prints in the sand of time, and say that yes, there was a time I was not just a Nollywood actor, but every single person can confirm. I mean, it's one thing to say you're an actor, and people start asking, "which film you act?" "this one too na actress?" but you can't say that when it comes to me. And it also feels good to be recognized by the AMVCA, which is a huge organization.

Netflix

Photo Credit: Netflix

Now, let's go behind the scenes: did anything funny, sad, or surprising happen while filming?

Dima-Okojie: There were so many exciting moments, not necessarily sad moments. We filmed for over two months at the height of COVID-19, so you can imagine all the craziness that must have happened.

I remember while filming the dinner scene after we had our COVID-19 test, they told us a cast member had the virus, causing us to reschedule. Another moment was when Ramsey Nouah brought a crocodile for us to eat while filming in Epe, and it was delicious. I honestly had lots of happy moments.

Isime: I feel like all these emotions happen naturally because I was happy every day I was on set. But something interesting that happened was the fact that Ini and I got so into the characters that we took it just beyond acting. We felt every emotion that the characters went through. We had one crying scene together, and I promise you that they cleared the room for us because we had to cry to get it out for a while. Because in reality, when something happens to you and you cry, you don't just cry for a bit. You have to let it out, and that was us. We were Kemi and Sarah and needed time to grieve. To let it out. It was an interesting event, and I had so many times I was tired, mentally and physically.

What's next for you? Any upcoming projects?

Dima-Okojie: There are so many exciting things in the works. First of all, I am getting married. Immediately after that, in June, I am going right back to set for the second season of Smart Money Woman. There are a couple more projects in the work that I'm not allowed to speak about yet, but there are exciting times ahead.

Isime: I love that question, and I also don't love that question because I don't know what's next. I'm just living my purpose, taking one day at a time, and grateful for every part of my journey. If you had told me five years ago that I'd be here, I would say it's a lie because I was probably sure that I knew where I was going. So what's next for me is a beautiful life, more projects, and more fantastic performances.

My show, The Nancy Isime Show, is also doing very well and happens to be one of the most-watched talk shows in the country, so I'm hoping that expands better. I'm also hoping to bring about a few more creations to life.

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