With the success of twenty to thirty something artists in Tanzania, it is easy to forget that even before Bongo Flava or YouTube and, even the Internet for that matter – Mzee Kipara was there. When we went to film Bongoland II in Dar, the casting director – Gervas Kasiga told me that he found a perfect old man to play the imam in the movie. He then said – once you hear his voice you will know who he is. And, sure enough, once I heard him I recognized his voice immediately. Mzee Kipara is a veteran actor who worked for Radio Tanzania for many years. He was part of the talented cast that was heard weekly in thrilling radio drama productions.
As a kid growing up in Bukoba, the radio reception was never clear, and so sometimes all we could hear were pieces of an argument between two characters and the unmistakable deep voice of Mzee Kipara in most cases playing an elder, a teacher, or a grandfather.
I was looking forward to meeting Mzee Kipara, and the casting was to take place at the University of Dar. We arrived there a bit late due to “foleni” – traffic jam…and ,no, it was NOT rush hour. Mzee Kipara was already waiting, so I went straight to talk to him. It was a hot day and Mzee Kipara was sitting by a wall smoking his unfiltered cigarette. I stretched my hand to greet him, he shook it and looked at me for a second, took a puff of his cigarette, and said “marhaba bwana”….hello. He asked if I was one of the people having the cast call. When I said yes, He said “You are late…you will make me late for my afternoon prayers at the mosque.” I apologized, and we moved into a room and started the casting process.
Gervas had already briefed him about the character and so he started asking me several questions. Then he asked about the characters playing opposite him. I told him about “Juma”…and he asked me to get Juma and started. Before Juma could start, he started quizzing him and telling him how to deliver his lines, what mood he should be in, and what facial expression he should have. Then they started acting out a scene.
I told Gervas immediately, “We have the imam!” Just right then, I knew we had a star amongst us. Mzee Kipara not only brought the aura of stardom, but he was extremely helpful. Most of the actors would listen to what he had to say and follow it, even if it was contrary to what I was saying. Most of them would tell me he has been around he knows what he is talking about. There was no argument from me.
Mzee Kipara is now retired, but he is still very active in the acting community. He does some radio occasionally and some acting in various locally produced movies. He told me that he has been “there” since day one. By this he was referring that he was part of the cast of one of the oldest film ever produced in Tanzania called “Fimbo Ya Mnyonge” in the late sixties. I could immediately detect a sense of pride as his face came alive with an authoritative glare.
In Bongoland II, Mzee Kipara performed beyond our expectations. His timing was perfect and he even added some spice to the scenes. We were extremely privileged to have him in this movie.
As I was looking at the pictures from various blogs covering the final farewell of the late Mzee Kaduma (Another Tanzanian acting veteran), I was struck by how little I knew about Mzee Kaduma. I was not sure if this was because of lack of coverage of such actors by the local (Tanzanian) media or because of my being uninformed of what is going on in the Tanzanian acting community. Either way, we need to be proud of our veteran actors and be very proactive in documenting their success and share them with the whole world.
As we completed the end of the shoot, Mzee Kipara thanked all of us and lit another cigarette. As he walked off the set, he was immediately surrounded by onlookers, some of who started shouting his name. Politely, he stopped and greeted them.
When the movie comes out, I think you will agree with us that Mzee Kipara is one of the best actors Tanzania has. We are very proud to introduce him to the rest of the world.
Mzee Kipara’s real name: FUNDI SAIDI
BIRTHDATE AND PLACE: 1922, BONGONI-TABORA
The story and the photos courtesy of Kibira Films. All photos were taken at the set of Kibira Films’ upcoming movie Bongoland II.