Zambia’s name is becoming more synonymous with the film lovers in Cannes, France. Ngosa Chungu’s E18hteam was the first to receive a nod at the Cannes Cinematique, and now Josephine Kachiza has won the Best Female Performer award at the Festival International du Film PanAfricain for Peter Langmead’s Damyna the Musical. Not to be confused with the Cannes Film Festival, the aforementioned event focuses on celebrating pan African work. Still, this does not take away any weight from Josephine’s Dikalo award or Ngosa’s achievements.
‘Damyna the Musical weaves the story of family secrets and a witch doctor’s spells that conspire to confuse the life of an orphaned girl. Her quest for love brings her traditional African village into conflict with the sophisticated world of international development agencies,’ the official press release states. Peter Langmead believes the musical captures the essence of African society, both rural and urban. He believes it breaks down barriers to present a real view of Africa to the West without stereotypes and misconceptions.
“Basically the original idea was to try and present to the world that Africa is not a terrible place,” he said. “The production is a light hearted look at ‘donorism’ and perhaps where it’s making some errors, from a Zambian perspective,” Langmead said.
The award winning musical originally premiered at the Lusaka Playhouse in 2014. It evolved out of the original stage play, Damyna, Damyna, a production by Opera Z. Gillian Langmead, co-producer and coordinator of the film had this to say, “Opera Z was founded 3 or 4 years ago now, with the aim of pulling together talent. We’ve got the most extraordinary set of classically trained set of musicians, singers and artistes who are not really getting an outlet for their skills.”
The production house also produced The Legend of Konga Mato but Damyna The Musical is the group’s most ambitious project to date. It combined the efforts of numerous people with a passion for what they do.
“Not only do you get the singing, musicianship and acting elements, you also got the film production. It really is a multi-faceted project and a huge undertaking as well,” said Gillian.
The Musical drew very much from the original stage play cast, but there are plans to carry out more casting calls for future projects to tap into the talent they may not currently be aware of.
“Sometimes we’re looking for the ability to read music and then layered on [top of] that is the acting experience…and finally, that additional spark of something special, Gillian said, “which Josephine has of course,” she added.
Josephine Kachiza is a singer with the Zambia Army Orchestra. The group is composed of some brass instrumentalists and even violinists. They perform at state functions, private affairs as well as concerts. She says she’s been a musical person for as long as she can remember
“My motivation has been there since time immemorial! [sic] Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a fan of music.” Josephine mainly has a passion for classical music. Her taste is drawn from her mother, who still sings in the church, as well as the friends she grew up with. “What brought us together is music,” she said fondly.
Josephine is also a member of Kanon, a group of musicians and artists whose performance at an event moved Peter Langmead. He enlisted almost the entire crew to star in his first Damyna production.
A lot of talent for the opera was discovered through word of mouth. “There were various churches with a background and historic tradition of classical music,” Gillian said. “The stage play had an orchestra of 50 or so members and some of these churches have full orchestras with extraordinary talent.”
But it takes more than raw talent to bring a production to life. Joseph Muyunda was the musical director for the picture and helped Peter Langmead to paint an accurate picture of his vision. They drew from previous experiences and numerous influences.
Peter Langmead spent a considerable part of his life in agricultural development. He’s lived and travelled extensively around the country. “…so I have a fairly good –well I like to think—insight into life in different areas,” he said. Over the years he has collected a number of interesting anecdotes and wished to manifest these experiences in an opera. He chose this particular artform because of its musical appeal. Langmead feels people here also ‘think musically’ and decided his venture would be a perfect fit.
Damyna deals with a number of weighty themes like racism, feminism and colonialisation and yet approaches the subjects with humour and lightheartedness. When asked about striking a balance with the themes, Peter Langmead said there is no discontinuity between the humour and thought provoking subject matter. “They’re meant to be there for people who want to find them and not there for people who don’t want to find them,” he said.
Because of the subjects the film tackles, and more especially because of the novelty of a Zambian musical, Damyna has received considerable international media coverage. Since receiving the award, Gillian says they’ve received enquiries from organisations wanting to distribute the film, particularly in Africa. The entire crew hopes to get the film out to a global audience. Josephine is quite ecstatic.
“It feels nice!” she said about receiving the award. “I didn’t expect it. I’m a singer, yes, but acting is not something I saw myself doing.” Ironically, though the Dikalo award came as an exciting surprise, she isn’t keen on pursuing acting aspirations. She recently completed a course in Banking and Finance and has intentions to pursue a career in the sector.
Zambia is said to have many talented individuals and recent achievements and awards in various fields including sports are testament to this. The film industry is still growing, but it continues to show great promise. Hopefully, more productions that challenge the status quo will be created, and perhaps our country’s name will be well known in Cannes and other creative centres of the world.