You’re always free to change your mind and choose a different future, or a different past.
For any creative, reinvention is a craft that must be mastered and coupled with talent not only to ensure one stays relevant, but also to ensure the growth of your art form. One creative who has embraced the freedom to change not only his mind but also his creative outlet is Akende Munalula.
Based in California, Akende has carved out a career for himself as an actor in Hollywood, having previously worked in advertising and music (he had two successful rap albums). He shares with Nkwazi that for him each career change has been less about adjusting and more about settling in.
Akende approached each career with love. Starting out, he didn’t know the ins and outs of advertising but he loved the art of it. The same goes for hip hop and acting. “The love has made everything I do rewarding to the point of enjoying all the ups and downs. I think love and passion always pave the way. So it’s not so much adjusting as it is settling in. And I’ve settled in nicely wherever I’ve followed my heart,” Akende tells me.
Born and raised in Zambia, Akende relocated to California in 2012 to attend the prestigious Stella Adler Academy of Acting from 2012 to 2014. One year into his studies of the Adler technique, Akende was awarded a scholarship by the school for the remainder of his two year conservatory in recognition of his hard work and dedication.
An avid storyteller since primary school when he used to write stories, he took this passion with him into advertising, hip hop and eventually film. Akende felt compelled to tell stories through film, using his own body as an instrument.
“The plays that I read and all the scenes that we worked on in class during this training confirmed to me that acting, whether in film, or on stage, was what I loved to do. I’ve been telling stories since childhood in some form or another, but it is through film, either as an actor or a writer, that I truly found my voice,” Akende recounts.
Akende believes the purpose of his art is to inspire others to connect to their dreams and find the courage to pursue them. He has always been a dreamer and this applies to his career as well. There was a voice inside him that said he is here for something big, not just a safe or comfortable life and he could never ignore that voice. Akende hopes that other people will listen to their inner voice once they experience his work.
While the Zambian film and television industry is small, Akende feels that people now have more faith in the industry and the quality of work that Zambians can produce. He says the onus is on filmmakers to tell compelling stories and to approach their craft with excellence.
He goes on to say, “The time has come to use the Zambian voice and talent in a way that can speak to the whole world. I believe we have so many real stories simply because we’re African. It’s incredible what we’ve been through. Africa has some of the richest history and there is so much that hasn’t been seen or heard. With a strong belief in our stories, the content from Zambia, and Africa at large, will be widely sought after.”
Whilst a major highlight of his career was working with Tyler Perry in Boo 2! A Madea Halloween, which was a huge box office hit and was America’s number one movie for several weeks, Akende has also worked alongside Oscar winner JK Simmons on the show Counterpart.
Having met so many amazing and influential people in the industry, the one piece of advice he always carries with him is from acting professor Milton Justice. Akende shares, “He once said to me, ‘You are enough.’ As somebody starting out, I thought I had to try all kinds of things to be seen. Instead, I just needed to be myself and the rest would fall in place. That advice has saved me multiple times. I am enough.”
The actor adds that his self-worth comes from his inner voice. He works on having a strong connection with himself through therapy, meditation and self-reflection. Having a strong awareness of his strengths and weaknesses has been of great value to Akende. Knowing himself has made Akende a more confident person.
His greatest strength is perseverance. Akende has an unshakeable belief that dreams come true and anything is possible. As we wrap up our conversation he says, “I refuse to settle for anything less than greatness. I’m inspired to keep exploring and growing until I break through the reality barrier. I’d like to be remembered for having shared my gifts and inspiring others to connect to their dreams – that I helped move the needle forward for a whole continent, the whole world. That’s my desire, my dream, my purpose.”