Kugali’s Danson Njoka on ‘Iwaju’, ‘Murenga’ and storytelling where it matters


Kugali recently made headlines for her partnership with Disney on an Afro-futuristic animated series titled Iwaju. Set in Lagos, the series, according to Disney, will be released on its streaming platform in 2023.

The Kugali x Disney deal remains a dream for many African creators even in 2022. He had to know Kugali’s secret superpowers. But we will come back to that. My Pulse interview with the new CEO of the pan-African company was, at its core, about putting African art center stage.

Congratulations on your latest appointment as CEO, can we talk about how your life is in general now and Kugali’s future?

My name is Danson Njoka, I am the Executive Director here in Kugali, currently I also have some additional functions. I am also the director of operations and have been in charge of the finance and operations divisions of the studio in Kugali, which is responsible for the licensing and adaptation of our work.

In my appointment, I see myself first and foremost as a lead storyteller here in Kugali. The most important role I have is to talk about why we do what we do, why it is important and why it is necessary to do it. I can talk about it and by doing so I attract others who feel and share our passion and conviction. I also support, of course, those people that we would need to achieve it because what we are doing is no small thing.

It is the change, nurturing and development of an entire visual arts industry on the African continent with the purpose of reshaping the existing narrative of us today, owning ours and forging and charting a new phase in the future for us. So I feel a great responsibility about it, but I also feel a great emotion about it.

I have been with Kugali since 2019 (there is a part of the time that we all lost in the pandemic). But I came across Kugali at a time in my life where I had a broader range of experiences and had especially been working with early-stage companies that were really trying to solve and tackle big problems or trying to deal with major problems in our actual society. through health, through education, within art as well.

Kugali recently announced Murenga as the first African LGBTQ sci-fi comic, I guess as an African this is as monumental as it is for me. What does supporting an LGBTQ story mean to you and the future of Kugali?

That’s a good question, what does it mean to me to support an African LGBTQ story? I think what I’m going to expand on goes beyond that, it’s what supporting an African story means to me, to Kugali, and to many of the partners that we’re now going to be working with. I think to answer that question I’d like to take a step back and talk about why telling the stories we tell or why telling any story matters and why it matters.

Kugali was created at that time and for the reason that there were simply no stories showing African cultures and practices. Out there in the world, what was consumed reflected none of the richness of breath, life and diversity that we have.

When people still talk about Africa as a country, if you ask them how many countries we have on the continent, how many people are there, how varied are their cultures, the diversity that exists within them, it boils down to a singular narrative or perspective. and that just erases all the people and all the stories and all the narratives and the encouragement that they have and the impact that they get to have.

If we are going to have and claim a world that has us, that has us as Africans, that has us as the different people that we are, that has us as Kenyans, Ugandans, Zimbabweans, that has us as men and women, that has us have us as people who speak thousands of languages, varied in shape, color and size, in the clothes we wear and in our cultural practices. Because when they are not told, what happens is that we cannot imagine or have an exploratory and rich life that we can create for ourselves because we only imagine that what we have been told, what we have seen, is possible.

So coming from that point, telling that story is very important but also part of our job here in Kugali, because there are a lot of people on the continent, including LGBTQ people, queer plus people, and every one of those stories deserves to be told. . we need to see that those people exist, and we need to see their representation, and we need to see an expression of who they are and it’s okay for them to exist. Not only that, there is the right and the right to have the richness of life that we want to have and that we bring to a society and that, like many other stories of our cultures, were most likely completely lost in the race for colonialism and for Christianity.

In your goal of reaching 10k pledges, have you experienced any kind of bribery?

I think that, as in any project, there will be people who do not see your way. There will be people who do not necessarily agree or perhaps think that the story should be told in a particular way but rather as a whole. What we have received is overwhelming support and enthusiasm for the stories we are about to tell. Even among those people who don’t identify as queer, for example, or don’t even like science fiction, for example, we have people who still support us.

Murenga it’s the first African queer story in graphics to be published and that’s really a big deal. Why hasn’t anything been done before? There is probably an artist whose story has not yet been told. There are queer people on the continent, at least that we know of. Perhaps they have not felt safe, they have not felt supported, they have not found the support to know that they could. And some of those doubts and fears also existed within us when we first tackled this project, but we know that anything and everything we’re doing today is breaking new ground, and in that sense, we’re not afraid. I feel like my biggest responsibility as the main storyteller here is to make sure we talk about why it’s important to tell these stories. And when we talk about that, what we see is support and recognition, whether it’s from people on the continent or major players like Disney and others who understand why we’re doing what we’re doing.

African stories are finally taking center stage. What does it mean to you, especially as an African?

I think there is a mixed feeling about it. Mixed feelings because it is exciting to be able to see a show that will be centered on Lagos. There is an emotion that we can see in the same way that we are probably all excited when Black Panther came out even though it’s a fictional story. I feel a sense of identity with the collective idea of ​​being there and especially the knowledge that I have somehow contributed to make this happen.

There’s also… it’s a frustration, maybe a little bit or annoyance that our stories haven’t been there. It shouldn’t be such a big deal that an African animated series is on one of the biggest platforms. Africa represents a very large part of the world’s population, so there is anger and frustration. Why is this so momentous?

In Kugali, as much as we have an exciting collaboration [with Disney] It is really an exciting show. For us, it’s just the beginning, we have a number of other exciting shows that we’re working on that are also very exciting and inspiring and motivational in that this needs to happen more and I’m especially excited to see the people who will follow this desire, especially in our industry, to do something about it. And so whenever we discuss this, it is with a great sense of conviction that we do what we do.

Kugali has a partnership with Snapchat. Let’s talk about what that association implies?

Kugali being one of the first official lens makers, especially from the mainland, it’s a very exciting space for us. Here in Kugali, what we want to be able to do is enable not just who wants to tell stories, but empower and allow other people to go and tell stories. Our partnership with Snapchat is very exciting, especially as we are one of the few, if not the only, official lens creators on the African continent.

Snapchat approached us about working with them on a project to create filters – some glasses that people would wear to celebrate Black History Month in the US. More than 50 million users worldwide have interacted with it. that we create It’s an exciting new space where we can create beautiful artistic images and then very quickly we can make it accessible for people to interact and play.

Founded by Hamid Ibrahim, Ziki Nelson and Tolu Olowofoyeku, Kugali Media is a pan-African company focused on stories inspired by African culture.


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