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‘Iwájú’: Nigeria-Based Animated Series Debuts On Disney+

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Iwájú

(CTN News) – After nearly five years of dedicated effort, the animation team at Kugali Media is witnessing the fruition of their hard work with the release of the comic book series “Iwájú” in a spectacular way – and now, audiences worldwide have the chance to be a part of it.

This animated series unfolds as a coming-of-age narrative set in a futuristic Lagos, Nigeria.

Walt Disney Animation Studios recognized its potential and, in 2020, declared it a “first-of-its-kind collaboration” with the pan-African entertainment company. All six episodes are now available for streaming on Disney+.

Kugali Media, co-founded in 2017 by Hamid Ibrahim along with friends Tolu Olowofoyeku and Olufikayo “Ziki” Adeola, embarked on the creation of “Iwájú” in 2019 as part of their mission to share “high-quality African stories with the world.”

Hamid Ibrahim, CEO of Kugali, expressed to CNN that having Disney acquire and showcase their show on its streaming platform serves as “definitive proof it can be done, and it has been done. And that’s a very, very sweet feeling.”

At the world premiere in Lagos on Tuesday, Olufikayo “Ziki” Adeola shared with CNN, “My hope is that people get to experience an authentic version of Lagos, but also have fun because this is a sci-fi story that’s futuristic. So, I want them to have fun and lose themselves.”

The release of “Iwájú” not only signifies a significant milestone for Kugali Media but also stands as a testament to the increasing recognition and global embrace of diverse narratives, particularly those rooted in the rich cultural tapestry of Africa.

As the series makes its way to Disney+, it opens up new horizons for storytelling and representation in the realm of animated entertainment.

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Kugali’s “Iwájú”: Crafting Authentic African Narratives with Cultural Intentionality

For Kugali Media, every story they tell is rooted in the heart of Africa, a continent rich in diverse countries and cultures.

CEO Hamid Ibrahim emphasizes the importance of intentionality in their storytelling, recognizing that while they aim to portray an African story, it’s crucial for viewers unfamiliar with African culture to gain a deeper understanding through their narratives.

“We’re telling an African story, but a lot of viewers do not understand African culture,” Ibrahim explained. “Hopefully, (by watching) they get to understand it better.”

The animated series “Iwájú” serves as a testament to this commitment. Voiced by Nigerian actors Simisola Gbadamosi and Siji Soetan, portraying Tola and her best friend Kole, the show aims for authenticity in every aspect.

Additional characters in the series feature voice acting by Dayo Okeniyi, Femi Branch, and Weruche Opia.

To capture the essence of Lagos, the vibrant Nigerian metropolis where the story unfolds, Kugali Media turned to Tolu Olowofoyeku, the only executive based in Lagos full-time, as their cultural consultant.

Olowofoyeku played a pivotal role in ensuring authenticity and grounding the narrative in the soul of the city.

“I was there to make sure that everything felt authentic and grounded,” Olowofoyeku shared. He highlighted the pride in achieving a genuinely Nigerian feel through language and character interactions.

“The fact that the language, the way the characters talk is 100% Nigerian … I’m very happy about that because there is no scene where you will feel it doesn’t really feel Nigerian.”

For Ibrahim, it’s not just about showcasing the positive or negative aspects but presenting the real essence of Lagos. The team strived to capture all the intricate details of the city to help audiences grasp its nuances.

This approach, according to Ibrahim, serves as a cultural education tool, making certain aspects of the culture more relatable and normal to a global audience.

As “Iwájú” debuts on Disney+, it stands as a testament to Kugali Media’s commitment to crafting narratives that authentically represent Africa, bridging gaps in cultural understanding, and contributing to a more nuanced global perspective on African stories.

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Iwájú”: Kugali’s Vision for African Representation Takes Center Stage

While “Iwájú” premiered on February 28 on Disney+, the streaming service is not yet available in Africa.

However, African audiences will soon have the chance to experience the animated series on the Disney Channel, where it is set to air at specified times starting from April 22, according to the company.

Hamid Ibrahim, CEO of Kugali Media, expresses his hope that “Iwájú” will resonate with viewers of all ages. He aims for the family-friendly show to inspire children to face challenges head-on, learn perseverance, and understand that setbacks are part of the journey.

Ibrahim emphasizes the importance of pushing through difficulties, with the belief that something better awaits on the other side.

Expressing gratitude to Disney for entrusting them with the animation, Ibrahim acknowledges the collaboration’s significance in providing greater representation within the continent.

Christine Service, the general manager for Walt Disney Company Africa, echoes this sentiment, emphasizing that authentic storytelling, reflecting the audience’s world, is at the core of Disney’s mission. She commends the Kugali team for sharing this philosophy.

Alongside the six-episode series, “Iwájú” introduces a soundtrack featuring music by Nigerian composer Ré Olunuga. Additionally, Disney launches a game titled “Disney Iwájú: Rising Chef.”

This gaming experience allows players to explore authentic African delicacies through a fast-paced and accessible cooking game, celebrating the culture and cuisine of Nigeria.

With “Iwájú” making its debut, Hamid Ibrahim expresses the Kugali Media team’s readiness to embark on showcasing the next African story.

He envisions this as the first step towards creating more diverse content, aspiring to see a day when one of their stories is both funded and told entirely within Africa, and then brought to a global audience.

As “Iwájú” unfolds its futuristic narrative, it not only entertains but also serves as a beacon for increased representation and recognition of African storytelling in the world of animation.

Arsi Mughal is a staff writer at CTN News, delivering insightful and engaging content on a wide range of topics. With a knack for clear and concise writing, she crafts articles that resonate with readers. Arsi's pieces are well-researched, informative, and presented in a straightforward manner, making complex subjects accessible to a broad audience. Her writing style strikes the perfect balance between professionalism and casual approachability, ensuring an enjoyable reading experience.

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