As a young creative practitioner, there are few things as inspiring as seeing the emergence of new bold voices that you can identify with or aspire to. The coverage within this blog has mainly focused on such voices within the independent sector, but today our focus turns to a young production company that’s been making waves on mainstream platforms; A Tribe Called Story. July 6th 2019 was a momentous occasion for A Tribe Called Story as their programming occupied 90 minutes of competitive prime-time space on paid television. They debuted their 8th made-for-TV flick, titled Isikhundla, on Mzansi Magic at 19h30 and just as that finished their first ever drama series, Impilo: The Scam, premiered on 1Magic at 20h30 before it launched on Mzansi Magic the following Monday. Sitting at home with bated breath, I’d rarely ever been this excited waiting for a new local series on broadcast television.
Formed in 2017, A Tribe Called Story’s team consists of three young practitioners all under-30 who met through the 2015 M-Net Magic in Motion Academy; Aluta Qupa (27), Mbalizethu Zulu (24) and Thembalethu Mfebe (27). From 2018 until now, Tribe have consistently produced quality Original Mzansi Magic Movies and their products have reliably garnered ratings. Some of the films have been so popular that their original airings ranked amongst DSTV’s highest rated programs of that month, including Umqhele (March 2018 & August 2018) and Unkosikazi Wokuqala (August 2018). All of this laid the back-drop for their next level of progression with Impilo: The Scam, hereby referred to simply as Impilo. Impilo is a drama series that drops us into the world of multi-level-marketing schemes through the eyes of a down-on-his luck teenager.
Impilo is a spark of ingenuity that provides the audience with familiar characters and settings within a world that’s relatively unexplored in local television. The world of pyramid schemes is one that has been rife for as long as I can remember and it preys on the desires of the vulnerable. The show provides us with a perfect storm of vulnerability with its lead character Mnqobi, portrayed by newcomer Sipho Mdingi. Mnqobi is the son of a single mother who’s struggling to make ends meet and has an aspirational disabled little brother with severe health problems that need medical attention. Mnqobi’s taken for a tailspin when his charming father returns after disappearing for 10 years, appearing well-off and offering him an opportunity to make great money in what is explicitly a multi-level-marketing project. Aside from the world of pyramid schemes, Impilo is also refreshing in how young and contemporary it is. Amidst acting titans like Desmond Dube and Sthandiwe Kgoroge are a slew of young and fresh faces, both known and unknown, like Nay Maps, Candice Modiselle, TK Sebothoma, Siya Raymond, Neville Matsaung as well as the aforementioned Mdingi. The cast bring a fun vibrancy and dynamic that’s scarce within prime-time programming.
Although we’re only an episode in, Impilo shows an incredible amount of promise. Through their initiatives and ED programs like the Magic in Motion Academy, Multichoice has made consistent strides in developing young voices and the results are paying dividends in programming. Impilo is a display of youthful exuberance unlike anything I’ve seen within that slot and a showcase of its potential when provided support. The pilot is a constant meeting point between the trusted and new, the familiar and unexplored. I’m genuinely intrigued to see how that continues to build throughout the series and moreso within mainstream content. Impilo is a strong debut for a company that’s just at the beginning of their journey. As we’re about to usher in a new decade with increasingly more varied content opportunities than the decade we’re leaving, A Tribe Called Story’s success provides hope for what youth excellence can look like.