Up&Ap: Daudi Anguka on embracing mermaids and telling a relatable story

He first gained major recognition with his film Zilizala which won Best Indigenous Language Movie (Swahili) at the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards 2017. In 2019, he got his biggest break yet in television when Pete (available on Showmax), the Swahili telenovela that he created and produces, was nominated for Best TV Drama, Best Lead Actor and Best Lead Actress in a TV Drama at the Kalasha Awards. At the same award ceremony, Nyanya Rukia, a Swahili comedy series which he executive produces won Best TV Comedy and Best Performance in a TV Comedy for lead Kazungu Fahamu.

Pete, which Daudi Anguka (pictured top) describes as “the first biggest project of his career”, follows the bitter rivalry and tussle for power between two brothers – Mbura and Jasiri – who fight for the control of Funzi Island after their father dies before naming his heir.

It’s a story about power and greed and the extent a brother will go to take what he believes is rightfully his. But Pete is also a story about love tussles, and the culture of Funzi Island, some which revolve around supernatural elements and old legends like mermaids.

“The existence of mermaids is a tale that the people at the Kenyan Coast subscribe to. I remember hearing so many stories about mermaids growing up, and even the older generations claimed to have seen them. This is not a story that is strange to us who are living at the Coast. Even as we toured Funzi Island before filming, the most common story the elders and the people of the island told us was around the existence of mermaids (or vitunusu) as they are commonly known in Funzi. This gave me the confidence with Pete, creating a story on something that the people widely accept and can embrace,” Anguka says.

1. What was the inspiration behind Pete?

Daudi Anguka (DA): I had to really think about those unique things that people associate the Kenya Coast, like the island and the ocean. Relating to that, I wanted to capture the stories around mermaids since this is something that baffles so many people. I went to different islands like Lamu, Watamu, Wasini and many more but I still couldn’t find the most suitable location for Pete. The search continued until I got to Funzi Island and I knew immediately that this was it.

2. Which character did you have the most fun creating?

DA: I had fun with Mbura. I needed someone who would lead Funzi with force and ruthlessness but in essence didn’t have a lot of power. Karembo was also another character I really enjoyed building in terms of how she evolved from an ordinary community girl to venture into the palace, influencing the character of both Mbura and Nimimi thus spicing up the story.

3. Talking of characters, no matter how serious Pete gets, there’s always some humour especially from Sudi.

DA: In most telenovelas there’s always a comic character that slightly drifts your emotions away from the tension. Sudi is that character for Pete; he’s able to create different moods depending on a specific setting. Because of his roaming and eavesdropping nature, he also knows nearly everything that happens on the island. The fact that he can make you laugh even in serious circumstances makes the story very interesting and we expect to build him more and more so that people will remember his performance.

4. Pete has been well received in Kenya and Tanzania. Were you expecting the show to have this kind of impact when you first started?

DA: Honestly, I didn’t expect it. I was afraid of how the audience would receive Pete because I had never done a project this big before. For months, so many thoughts played inside my head to the point of getting depressed. I remember nervously locking myself in on the day the first episode premiered praying that its reception would be great. I think one of our biggest fears as producers is making something that will not resonate well with the audience because we mostly get caught up in stories we love and at times end up producing shows that the general audience can’t relate to. I had to sit with my team and strategize on how we would make Pete special and thank God everything went well.

5. Shot in Funzi Island, does Pete capture the real-life traditions and culture of the Island?

DA: Before writing the pilot episode, I took the writers on location to Funzi Island where we studied the culture and way of living of the local people because we wanted to bring out the real life of these people and fuse them with other diverse cultures around the Coast. All the names we used in Pete are names of actual people who exist in Funzi not necessarily having the exact traits as depicted in the show.

6. Pete features an element of the supernatural and brings to life the old legend of mermaids at the Coast. It must be challenging to bring such a story to life?

DA: It was very challenging bringing out the aspect of mermaids especially on the technicalities involved in shooting and developing the story. Two of my cameras fell into the water during the shooting process. I also had to do a lot of research on how I would bring the mermaid character to life and create a bond between her and the human world. Another challenge was that the nature of the ocean currents gave us strict timelines on when we would shoot. It was tough but with the help of the community we were able to steer through.

7. From the conversations online, the most talked about shows in Kenya are all Swahili telenovelas – from Pete to Selina to Maria. In your opinion, what is that secret ingredient that Swahili shows have that other local shows don’t have?

DA: Swahili shows embody culture and people are always interested to know more about different cultures. I always encourage other producers to try and bring out the culture in everything they create because people will relate to it. The reason these shows have emerged to be among the top in the country and beyond is in the way the audience have been able to relate with what they see and hear.

8. Should more Kenyans embrace Swahili telenovelas then?

DA: Yes, Swahili defines who we are and unites us as a people being our national language. At a time when many African nations have embraced the western wave, one key thing that can solidify our culture is our language and doing this through entertainment provides a clear platform of actualizing that. This also gives room for more filmmakers and more exciting local content to be birthed out.

10. With Pete earning two nominations and Nyanya Rukia winning Best TV Comedy at last year’s Kalasha Awards, do you feel like these achievements have opened more doors for you as a filmmaker in Kenya?

DA: With every nomination and award comes the privilege and recognition that what we do has been accepted in the market. So yes, they have given me opportunities to work with more people and also push our AR Films brand. For that I am always grateful to Maisha Magic East fraternity for this opportunity and the team I work with for always giving their best at all times.


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