Angola and Nigeria can collaborate – Windeck producer, Coreon Du
In 2015, Angolan telenovela Windeck swept to popularity on Africa Magic Showcase. Audiences tuned in across the continent Mondays to Thursdays to witness the unfolding drama in the Voss family. Windeck was so big in Nigeria that fans who could not follow live screenings went on Twitter to catch up on commentary from celebrities like Denrele Edun.
The captivating story of two working class siblings – manipulative seductress Victoria Kajibanga and her hardworking sister Ana Maria (played by two former Miss Angola Micaela Reis and Nadia Silva respectively), as they competed for the love and attention of a bourgeoisie Kiluanji Voss. The cast of Windeck also had Angolan supermodel Fredy Costa and top actors Ery Costa and Grace Mendes in lead roles who thrilled audiences in English and French across the continent in the telenovela that was nominated for the 2013 International Emy awards. After Windeck we saw Jikulumessu, another absorbing story of love and vengeance from executive producer Coreon Du.
In this his first interview with Nigerian media, Coreon Du (born José Eduardo Paulino dos Santos, son of the Angolan president) talks about the Angolan entertainment industry and how he hit it big with Windeck and Jikulumessu as well as other productions like the feature film Njinga that tells the story of a powerful Angolan queen. Coreon Du also talks about the challenges faced by his stories that have explored issues like domestic abuse, bigamy, and sexual orientation, among many others.
There’s a lot of activity in the entertainment industry of Angola that we would not have known if not for Windeck. How did it happen?
I am very happy and was overwhelmed by the support of both English and French speaking West Africans for our work. Even on my social media I’ve seen a big growth of followers from Ghana, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire. And the Nigerian diaspora is very supportive as well. Windeck and Njinga have been played in channels in the diaspora for the West African crowd in the U.K. and Canada.
Did you expect the acclaim that came from Windeck?
[It was] much unexpected as we’re a small country and speak a minority language in Africa. So this support from other Africans is great motivation and wonderful opportunity so I do indeed hope it can go deeper and start getting more collaboration. I know that in other regions, especially in Congo and Cameroon, they’ve done a few things with the cast – some were judges in a TV show in Democratic Republic of the Congo and made other appearances on African TV for their fans.
Angola, like Nigeria, produces oil. How much support do the arts receive from the businesses? Do you have issues with funding?
Yes, funding for the arts and culture in Angola is a very big challenge, some companies do support especially music but outside of some commercial music and visual art it’s very difficult to get support, which is why theatre and film are highly popular but have much less resources and production is not as frequent. However, fortunately both of these domains have very strong artists that end up shining locally and internationally.
May I ask what the budget was for Windeck? The costumes and the visuals were really stunning.
I can’t tell you off the top of my head but per episode budget is pretty comparable to most other regional productions. African budgets are never very high compared to South American telenovelas which are very high budget. I tried to pull out all my art direction tricks and skills as much as possible as our team is not big, so cast members were often surprised to see me styling them or directing the hair and make-up team. I’m quite hands on so that also goes a long way in keeping budgets competitive.
How surprised are you at the acclaim that Windeck has generally received, from the International Emmys to being shown in Portugal, Brazil, Korea and West Africa?
It’s a huge surprise. When I made it, my team and I were just praying it worked out well in Angola especially as it was my first local production for a local audience. My first fiction project was a co-production commissioned by RTP (Portuguese television) called Voo Directo (2010). It was the first soap opera in Portugal with black lead actors in main roles (the leading cast was 2 Portuguese actresses and 2 Angolan actresses). It was the first time I got Micaela Reis to act after she was Miss World runner-up and Erica Tchissapa (who also did Jikulumessu and Njinga later). Before that, most of my experience was in advertising production and some local TV production. So very glad these new projects we’re doing independently are being appreciated.
Talking about Micaela Reis and Erica, how did you pull off having all these Angolan beauty queens in your productions?
For the beauty part, I actually cast a lot of people based on talent and how driven they are. My first experience with a beauty pageant alumnus was actually with Fredy Costa (he’s a former Mister Angola runner up) and I had worked with him a lot on advertising projects and when I was an intern in local productions. Micaela, Lesliana Pereira, Nadia Silva were a similar experience. They’re all extremely hard working. They use those pageant platforms to further their education and actually go beyond just looking good on camera and I’m happy they trusted me.
Your themes have ranged from stories of grass to grace, but also tackled issues of domestic violence, profiting from religion as well as non-traditional issues like sexuality. How has it been received in Angola?
Overall quite well, but also with some emotional roller coasters. I’ve noticed that the general public actually enjoy that my scripts include some of these themes. I’m happy that the viewers also see it that way and keep supporting our work because they can connect to it and feel entertained and have a nice conversation around something that is actually locally made as we watch a lot of international TV in Angola from many countries.
I’m aware that facing and showing some of these realities in a popular local TV show may be uncomfortable for some. That’s why I always remain respectful of people’s beliefs and comfort zone. However, in order to create good dramatic tension on a script you do have to get into some uncomfortable zones. I too have had neighbours, friends and family members who have suffered of substance abuse, or been victims of domestic abuse, have suffered bullying and observed people of every socio-economic status suffer from marital issues whether due to indirect polygamy or leading double lives because of their sexuality. These stories are also talked about a lot in talk shows on radio/TV and journalistic stories in Angola.
But there have been challenges by some political and religious groups who have tried to make an example of me and my work to push their own political agendas. But the will of the fans spoke louder and it came back due to demand by people who wanted to keep watching it which led to the infamous Jikulumessu being taken off the air due to pressure from these groups. I’m an artist and I like to tell compelling stories without any agenda. What’s most important to me is challenging myself and my team to do our best.
How popular is Nigerian music in Angola?
Nigerian music is extremely popular in Angola, we actually consume a lot of popular African trends especially from Congo and Nigeria in terms of music. Movies are becoming popular on satellite TV channels. They’ve not yet made it into the movie theatres. But in general people have been enjoying West African entertainment for the past few years. This especially after Cabo Snoop became popular in Nigeria with his debut album, a lot of Angolans decided to return the love and support and became curious about Nigerian pop culture.
What kind of collaborations can Angolan and Nigerian musicians and movie makers have?
Fredy Costa and Grace Mendes from our novelas just did a Nollywood production, I believe. Many popular musicians like Cabo Snoop, C4 Pedro, Yuri da Cunha and others have also done some collaborations with some West African musicians. P-Square have performed several times in Angola as well if not mistaken. I’ve seen them on one of their performances at a big festival that happens every year near the beach. Of course we’re always open to visiting and connecting. Our cast have been hosted in several countries that invited us and always open to connecting all over Africa. [We’re] always open to explore opportunities.