African fantasy series premieres on Showmax

A still picture from the African fantasy series Blood Psalms. PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • For Africans, mostly, our history goes back 200 years. That’s what we’ve been given, and it’s from Western perspectives.

The highly-anticipated, action-packed African fantasy series Blood psalms premiered on Showmax on September 28, with new episodes every Wednesday for 11 weeks.

Blood psalms, a co-production with CANAL+ had its world premiere in Cape Town, South Africa on August 24, as the opening night screening at MIP Africa, part of FAME Week Africa.  

The Showmax production is set in Ancient Africa, 1,000 years after the fall of Atlantis. The five surviving houses of Kemet find themselves beset with fears of a prophesied end of days. 

Bokang Phelane (Keeping score, Isidingo) has the role of a lifetime as Princess Zazi—a fiercely determined teenage princess, who must navigate primordial curses, long-standing ancestral vendettas and her inexplicable role as the damning prophecy’s chief harbinger.   

Mothusi Magano, winner of four SAFTAs and an African Movie Academy Award, plays her father—mad king Letsha. 

Elsewhere, SAFTA winner and 2022 DSTV Mzansi Viewers’ Choice nominee Zolisa Xaluva (Gomora, Knuckle City) plays General Toka—the head of her father’s Akachi army. 

“Blood Psalms is the biggest and most ambitious series we’ve ever made, completely unlike any other African series you’ve ever seen,” says Nomsa Philiso, executive head: programming at MultiChoice. “We couldn’t be more excited.”  

Phelane reckons the show “was specifically created as a reimagining of ourselves as Africans.” The show answers “who are we” in what Phelane believes is a “very entertaining way, with a lot of drama and action.” 

“For Africans, mostly, our history goes back 200 years. That’s what we’ve been given, and it’s from Western perspectives. We really don’t know anything much about our own history,” Magano says, adding, Blood psalms poses a lot of questions and will give people a lot to think about.”

Maake kaNcube says: “One thing that was brilliant for us was no use of an English word, whatsoever.”
He adds: “That was a big challenge even for a lot of actors, you know, because most of the time, we are used to performing and doing a mixture of African languages and English. This time, the dialogue is purely in African languages.”

Show creators Layla Swart and Jahmil X.T. Qubeka from Yellowbone Entertainment were responsible for South Africa’s 2020 Oscar entry, Knuckle City. The boxing drama was the most-awarded film at the 2020 SAFTAs, taking home six awards. It was also the most nominated film at the 2020 AMAAs, bagging two awards. 

“What we’re trying to do is to reclaim the continent’s history from an African perspective,” says Swart. Blood psalms draws from elements of a multitude of African mythologies and looks at various different tribes in Season One—the Akachi, the Uchawi, the Ku’ua, the Chini, and Great Nziwemabwe—as they migrated south from Kemet, which is now Egypt, and formed their cultures.” 

Swart told Saturday Monitor that the show “came out of a sense of urgency and a desire to showcase African talent, African fantasy, and African archetypes on screen.”

As to how you go about filming the series, Swart said: “We shot the series during Covid-19, which placed us under severe restrictions. However, we persevered and collectively came together as cast and crew to find creative ways of navigating the limitations. The series was shot over 84 days in the Gauteng, Eastern Cape and North West Provinces of South Africa.” 

Asked what the fans of action-packed African fantasy series should expect, Swart replied: “They should expect to see something unlike they have ever seen before, to imagine and consider the possibilities of the continent’s heritage and most importantly enjoy the series and the incredible performances.” 

According to Swart, season one is just a taste of what they hope to achieve in future seasons. In this season, they are using isiZulu, isiXhosa, setSwana, sePedi, seSotho, xiTshonga, and Swahili, among others. The series has English subtitles, and will be dubbed in future releases.

When asked if the African market is ready for action-packed fantasy series, Swart replied: “It is a privilege to create content right now from the continent as it is a time to be brave and pioneer new narratives and perspectives. The market is ready for various new stories and genres, and it is our job as storytellers to showcase the potential we have so that we can bring bigger and bigger stories to the continent.”

Shot in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and North West provinces, Blood psalms is a Showmax Original in partnership with CANAL+, the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, the Eastern Cape Economic Development Corporation (ECDC) and the MultiChoice Innovation Fund.