A day before Christmas, I opened up my laptop to frantically search for any shops that were both still open and sold anything remotely interesting. As the screen flickered to life, I noticed a suspicious looking email from Silumesii. Intrigued, rush forgotten, I opened it. He went on to describe the 52 Zambian Bloggers project. He’d gone through the trouble of preparing a suggested schedule, so I resisted the introvert inspired urge to immediately refuse.
Schedule in front of me, I scrolled through, searching for my name. Satisfied that it filled my freshly determined criteria, I nodded. I’d do it. The criteria? 1. It was sufficiently far in the future for me to naively believe the day would never arrive. 2. I’d already worked with my designated interviewee, so I had an idea of who she was. I spared a chuckle for Dai. Poor lady, good luck trying to get anything out of me (she did a fine job by the way). Nodding my head, I shut the laptop. Presents forgotten.
Ngosa calls herself an introvert, but by the end of the interview I’m sure we can all agree to disqualify her as one. She shares something with many of the project’s interviewees I’ve read so far – an innate desire to share the positive stories of Africa that are missing from mainstream media. It comes from a frustration deep down in seeing your continent misrepresented, when you know the beauty of her people and culture.
On every social media platform Ngosa is active on, right under her vibrant profile picture, she will describe herself as an Ndhlovukhazi storyteller. Not sure what that is? Well gather round children, let’s form a nice circle, keep quiet, listen. The Ndhlovukhazi storyteller is about to tell a tale.
When I found out I was interviewing you, I did a bit of digging and followed you on social media, and it quickly became apparent that you’re a very busy young lady. You’re involved in numerous projects and it was hard to keep up!
Could you tell us a little bit about the e18hteam documentary, Tikambe Natulande project and your company Purple Tembo?
You’re right I tend to be involved in many things. That is how I keep my creative juices flowing and things sharp. My inspiration is in direct correlation to what I expose myself to. I am quite introverted even though I can hold my own in the public eye. So to stop me from holeing up in the comfort of my home, from which I work, I try to be a part of projects that will draw me out, so I stay connected with the world and the zeitgeist.
Chapter 1 — Eighteen copper bullets
E18hteam (eighteam) is my first film project and the realisation of a lifelong dream to tell stories through this format. It tells the story of the Zambian National Football Team’s epic, tragic and triumphant journey in Gabon: The plane crash in 1993 that took the lives of 30, 18 of whom were Chipolopolo and how 18 years later, 18 penalties were taken for Zambia to win AFCON for the first time, in the same country they had suffered such a loss. As you can see that’s where the name comes from, it is a play on football team and the number 18 which is prevalent in the story.
“18 of whom were Chipolopolo and how 18 years later, 18 penalties were taken for Zambia to win AFCON”
I co-produced and financed filming of interviews around the world with my partner Juan Rodriguez-Briso and then I found financing for the archival footage and national tour of the film from Zambeef, who also facilitated my travel to film festivals around the world.
That is how the film was able to win 4 awards on 4 continents. Be shown in Zambia, Nigeria, Brazil, the USA, Indonesia, Germany, Spain and in France. Be awarded a special screening by the Mayor of Cannes at Cannes Cinema during the Cannes Film Festival. And for myself to be awarded by the State of California for fostering cultural exchange in 2015.
This year the film is still being requested around the world and will show in Los Angeles this month and in Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago later in the year.
An epic, tragic, triumphant journey indeed. I never realised the significance of the number 18. The fact that it was in Gabon, there was too much at stake, it just couldn’t have ended any other way. It has been great to watch Zambia’s story taken to so many countries around the world. E18hteam has been an incredible success…
In the early days of the project, did you have any idea of what you held in your hands, did you ever imagine it would be this successful?
I knew the story was epic. I am a huge football fan (my father was 1972 school footballer of the year and was being groomed to play for the 1974 team. He got a scholarship to continue his education abroad but football stayed in the home). I watched every AFCON 2012 match and as the drama unfolded on screen, I knew that this story was a fairytale in real life. By the final I was beside myself with just how perfect a tale it was, and when we won, knew that it was such an incredible journey you couldn’t believe it unless told in documentary by the people who experienced it.
“I knew it would find a home, but I was still so moved by just how receptive audiences were, not only in Zambia but all around the world.”
When the rough cut was finally put together in July 2014, I knew that we had threaded the story together in the same way the story had magically unfolded in real life. I showed it to my Dad and Samba Yonga and they were floored.
I have not gotten used to the way the film affects people, and I hope I never do. The greatest gift I have received from making eighteam is that it has touched people and they have payed it forward by enriching my life through their experience of it.
The reactions of the highs and lows of the e18hteam story
The project itself has been a success, but you’ve also been personally recognised, apart from being awarded by the State of California for fostering cultural exchange earlier this year, you were also recognised a little closer to home…
Could you tell us a little about that?
I was honoured to be voted by the public as the Zambian Woman in Film at the Zambian Women of the Year Awards in March. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The accolade came at a particularly low period in my life. With success comes change in the way people perceive you and not always for the best. People were trying to tell me what to do, who I should be, what I should give them, messing with my creative process and equilibrium. I also know I have not reached the pinnacle but have only built a solid foundation, and what I do next will have a huge impact on where life leads me. I have no idea why we try to cut the legs from under one another and make each other feel small when we see someone working hard and achieving their dreams. I had removed myself from public life both physically and online to centre myself and figure out what was real and where I truly was, so I could continue on my storytelling journey and honour my truth.
I received a call in February from Karen Nakawala, founder of the Zambian Women of the Year Awards and someone who has always been a support, saying that the public had nominated me and that the response to my category rooting for me was overwhelming. I think she knew that I was in a bad place without me saying it and she said to me, don’t think that no one has seen what you have done, people are looking and they are proud. I went on to win the award and in my speech I echoed something that had crystallised for me during this dark time. People may dare to tell you what you can and cannot do, try to tell you who you are and mold you as they see fit, but only you can truly know your potential, what you are capable of, what your dreams are and what you want to achieve. Once you know that you are the person in control of your destiny you have won. You will figure out how to get to where you need to go, how to make what you want happen. Did I need to win, no. I would have found a way to pick myself up, and was in the process of doing that with my #ngosa34 project on Instagram. But what the award did tell me, is that I was right about the way Zambians felt about the film, and that my gut instinct is not awry but on point. That validation was special nonetheless and I am grateful for the outpouring of support. At least I know there is a potential audience out there for my future endeavours.
Chapter 2 — Let’s talk
Tikambe Natulande is a youth-led initiative that has been largely through radio programmes aired on community stations around Zambia. Their funders BBC Media Action, Restless Development and the Swedish Government asked Samba Yonga, whom was one of the first profiled in the 52 Bloggers series, to turn it into a TV Show. We met through me creating e18hteam online and she was instrumental in spreading the word about the film in Zambia and beyond. At one of our lunches, she told me about the project and about how they wanted families to be able to sit and talk about sexual reproductive health issues together, using the topics presented as a jump-off point. I thought it was awesome and thought that the celebrity guest presenters she had picked were the right ones to kick things off perfectly.
She then dropped the bomb that she wanted me to be one of them too! I didn’t think that I was a celebrity or the right fit but she convinced me that my natural inclination to speak my mind was exactly what was required. I asked her for a challenging topic to which I could then share my own experience about sexual harassment in the workplace and she did. That turned into Episode 2 that has already aired and is online about a father who sexually abuses his child in order to teach her about sex and to stop her from having intercourse with her alleged boyfriend. I nearly lost my mind presenting that episode but I am very proud of my contribution and being a part of this groundbreaking show in my small way.
Woah, talk about taking part in projects that will draw you out! You mentioned the point of Tikambe is to try and get families to sit down and talk about sex…
In what way do you think talking about it will help families in Zambia?
We live in a culture of silence. Hush hush all the time. Even when I embarked on eighteam people scared me to death telling me that the subject could get me in trouble. We live in such fear. Nothing happened to me during the entire period of researching, making and sharing the film. I spoke out about my sexual harassment at work and was freed to carry on storytelling in other ways, life moved on. So I am committed to showing people that talking liberates and keeping mum mummifies you.
“The issues have been made real to people. They cannot hide from them any longer and have been forced to act.”
Our continued issues with HIV and Gender Based Violence that are the most publicised and other sexual reproductive health issues are due to the fact that we don’t really talk about them honestly and candidly. I also think that we have created this idea that if you are privileged in any way, you aren’t affected by certain things and worse, don’t care that others are. By each celebrity guest presenter speaking out, relating to the brave youths experiences, showing that we understand and empathise and sharing our own experiences means that conversation can be created, as eyes are opened.
The audience have also given me feedback that has confirmed this. The issues have been made real to people. They cannot hide from them any longer and have been forced to act. Or, at least, have been given a means to start a conversation. I am extremely proud of that.
Chapter 3 — Purple reign
Purple Tembo is really about telling proudly Zambian and positively African stories that can touch anyone locally and beyond. The company name Purple Tembo is because my favourite colour is purple, the colour of royalty, quality and has a mysteriousness to it. And Tembo, Swahili for elephant, my favourite animal.
Tembo is not my last name but Nsofu from my mother’s side was too hard for a global audience to get their mouth around so I went with Tembo as my paternal grandfather is Ngoni and Tembo is a common surname from that tribe, so there is a link there too.
“Everything is about my Zambianess and Africaness and illustrates my creativity and and how all I do has a story behind it.”
I call myself the ‘Ndhlovukhazi Storyteller’ because I want to be a master multimedia storyteller and my company is a vehicle to do that. Ndhlovukhazi means female elephant in many Bantu languages, including Ngoni and in Swaziland the queen mother is given this title. I added Storyteller as no matter what I do, I want to communicate something as an individual or as CEO of Purple Tembo. So everything is about my Zambianess and Africaness and illustrates my creativity and and how all I do has a story behind it. I have now ushered in the era of Purple Reign, which is a play on Prince’s Purple Rain and also clearly communicates that I plan to rule when it comes to storytelling lol. I am a Queen, that’s what we do hee hee.
The many faces of Ngosa, theres always a smile, though shes oft to pull a funny face. In her words, “work and play are not separated for me”. She also has a thing against gravity and keeps trying to defy it.
It’s awesome to see that everything has a link and a reason for existing. You mention “Ndhlovukhazi Storyteller” and on many of your social media profiles you describe yourself as such. My Nyanja is a bit rusty but that has something to do with Elephants right? Whats up with the elephant references I keep seeing? (Editor’s note: Hey, give my Nyanja some credit! I asked the question before I saw the above answer.)
What is an “Ndhlovukhazi Storyteller”?
You are spot on. I already touched on it but to go deeper I would say I started off with just ‘Ndhlovukhazi’ as it is in keeping with my company’s elephant theme – to keep wanting to strive for the majestic and also as my mother’s side is matrilineal so the matriarch is something deeply engrained in my DNA.
I then didn’t want to be a hyphenate as that is what people do when their lives become more public: actor, producer, writer, fashion designer and to that I say ehk! So I asked myself what is the common thread in everything I do, what is it that I’m trying to achieve? I wanted my title to make sense no matter how I was being introduced and ‘Storyteller’ was what was needed tacked on the end to immediately encompass what I do. And thus the Ndhlovukhazi Storyteller was born.
You’re a serial hashtagger! But your use of hashtags seem less like the vein traditional hashtag and more like personal statements. I sense they have a deeper meaning and there’s something bigger behind them.
What are the stories behind #purplereign, #pelliefun, #workhardplayhard #proudlyzambian and #positivelyafrican?
Yes, I see you picked up on that which is great! My hashtagging is less about getting likes, follows and retweets and more about exposure and putting forward my point of view and populating the virtual world with more African content that is easily accessible. My degrees in communication really rammed that home for me. As I am Western educated, I am acutely aware of how much no one knows about us or cares about how our stories are put out.
So my hashtags are deeply personal and tend to have puns. I love me a good pun, especially when they are punny (funny and witty) – stole that one from Leelee, another 52 Blogger already profiled and a great friend. I like to get people thinking even when things are entertaining or light. I call it profound nonsense – that’s awesome possum laced with oodles and poodles of purple elephant fun. Work and play are not separated for me. They are all expressions of my life as I am living it.
I’m really not the right person to do this subject justice, so please forgive me, but going through your Instagram, whether you’re on stage or at an event, every picture of you has a very colourful and distinctly African look. I’m sure that’s very deliberate and not a coincidence.
Could you tell us what role African (and dare I say, Zambian) fashion plays in your public life?
My foray into Zambian and African fashion as a distinct part of my storytelling and identity was personal to begin with and became a public marker by accident actually. I’ll share a little bit of my story to explain how it came to be.
When I was 11, I moved back to England to go to boarding school. There were only 3 Black people at that school and everywhere I went, I was immediately identifiable for no other reason than my skin colour. I could never tell whether it was because I had done something special or simply because I was different. Consequently, I wouldn’t wear bright colours, or prints and had a very monochrome and streamlined wardrobe. I didn’t need to draw anymore attention to myself than I already got.
When I returned to Zambia in 2006, I started collecting earrings as a way to ease my way into not hiding and to express my culture in my wardrobe. In 2008, I left again to do my double masters in the UK and US. At university in Stanford, my African identity was shaken to the core. My blackness was questioned, as I was not black like an African American, and my Zambianess was questioned, as I didn’t sound like I was from the continent. It took a while to piece myself back together.
After working in Switzerland, in 2011 I finally decided to come back and be the storyteller I wanted to be in Zambia. While working on eighteam, I got the opportunity to earn money to divert into the film through the Today with Zamtel TV program that was looking to add a Zambian history, culture, and natural beauty segment. I got to fulfill my dream of travelling around the country and creating my own curriculum to learn more about Zambia which I got to share with viewers every week. I also got to choose what I wore, and decided this would be a great excuse to invest in a proudly Zambian chitenge wardrobe and explore that side of myself. So I did.
I had no idea that this choice would resonate with the audience so profoundly, particularly with young girls. People would hope that the next place I visited was in their area and would be so excited to see me and thanked me for dressing in such a proudly Zambian way.
A woman once recognised me from hundreds of meters away sitting at Zamtel in Chipata and walked all the way to tell me that she knew it was me, as no one else could be dressed in chitenge fashioned in such a way. At this point I had formed a great partnership with Kamanga Wear, whose classic yet futuristic style, mirrored my streamlined yet edgy aesthetic.
“I realised that my personal choices affected the people I touched with my storytelling and I should not take that lightly.”
When I was off the air, a lady recognised my father at the bank and asked if I was his daughter and told him of how she, her daughter and her friends had formed a viewing party and would watch me every week and missed me because I showed them that you could be smart and pretty in a dignified way. I realised that my personal choices affected the people I touched with my storytelling and I should not take that lightly. Fashion is so much more than clothes. I have always felt that way, but realised it was another way to tell a proudly Zambia and positively African story. This was reaffirmed through my world tour with eighteam. Zambians loved that I took them with me everywhere I went through my clothes. I am proud to be an Ambassador of sorts in that regard and will continue to be as long as people want it. It’s a real perk of what I do.
Telling the positively African story seems to be a core part of you. With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, personal websites and blogs more and more Africans have the platform to tell their own take on the story.
How can we all contribute better to the positively African story? How do we balance the often missed positive side with the sometimes challenging reality and what should the ratio be?
Simply by expressing ourselves. Not trying to give the people what you think they want, not following global trends or pandering to the world out there to get them to look at you, just be yourself and put what you know out there the best way you can. Nothing is more infectious than authenticity. Authenticity that breeds something unique and makes you stand out. No matter where I have lived and worked on 3 continents, what separated me from the rest is the fact that I am a Zambian woman, proud of her Africanness and the unique experiences I have had as a global citizen.
“Nothing is more infectious than authenticity.”
The balance is a little trickier. I had seen too much of the worst after 20 years in the Western world and really wanted to be able to show the positive. It took me a while to realise that positive doesn’t mean shying away from the things we need to work on, but embracing our shortcomings knowing that there is hope. It means rooting out what is working that no one is shining a light on and understanding why things aren’t working, owning up to them and taking responsibility to find a solution. Ultimately it’s being optimistic by accepting that we are still developing, but recognising that we are moving forward and we are determined to overcome.
Most importantly stay away from numbers. The world loves to talk about 2 dollars a day, 80% of Zambians are under the age of 35, only 5% of the internet is African content. That doesn’t mean much to people, only to those in power looking for shortcuts to express very complex ideas of humanity and sound intelligent doing so. Numbers and stats are cold. Stories illustrate those numbers in an emotionally cerebral way and are rich with visuals that people can conjure up if they are not accompanied with visuals. Don’t think about a ratio, just speak from the heart. That will resonate and the balance will naturally be found with time.
The future is bright, or purple in this case. E18hteam is starting to settle down and you’re currently involved in Tikambe, but what’s next for Ngosa?
What’s the next story we can expect from the Ndhlovukhazi storyteller?
He he he! I checked the weather and it’s all purple reign in the foreseeable future! Serendipitously, this article has come just at the right time. I am officially in pre-production for my sophomore project by the time this posts, so you have gotten a scoop!
All I can say right now is that it is a multimedia project responding to Zambia’s current socioeconomic climate through African cultural exchange in the best way I know how: storytelling. The main aim of this project is to create and curate online content about life today in Zambia and the motherland, find a way to process who we are through the experiences of African countries and to create a documentary that chronicles the most moving and insightful parts of this journey and to foster dialogue about how to move forward to a better tomorrow and create a way to pay what we have learnt forward.
Look out for posts from ZeDream Team and the A.C.E. Project in the next month… I cannot help myself. If I was reincarnated as a rapper I’d be Big Pun.
My first venture into journalism and already an exclusive. Maybe I should consider a career change? Ngosa, it has been a tremendous pleasure getting to know more about you and your take on things. Consider our curiosity piqued. The audience awaits with baited breath as the Ndhlovukhazi storyteller takes to the stage to tell her next story.
Below are some links to find out more about Ngosa and the projects we talked about.