- I was pleasantly surprised. But I can’t remember where I was; I’m not one of those people.
- But I feel that, with the way our industry is, if you get recognition out there, it’s hard to translate it into money here. With that reality in mind, your reaction is reined in a bit.
Actor and spoken word artiste Elsaphan Njora has made all the right moves in television and film, and has received international recognition. But the success does not seem to be paying off the way he expected. The Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards nominee tells JOSEPHINE MOSONGO why
You have a unique name; what does it mean?
Elsaphan (Elzaphan in the Bible) means “whom God protects”, and Njora is the sheath of a sword. I inherited it from my grandfather; he fought during the Mau Mau rebellion.
Sounds like you have a legacy to live up to
(Laughs) I must either end a war or start one.
Did you have to audition for ‘Kati Kati’, or you were sure you’d get the role since director Mbithi Masya and script writer Mugambi Nthiga are your friends?
I had to audition and it was rigorous. Mugambi, K1 (whom many people know as Makmende), myself and one other person auditioned for the role. There was some bitterness at the end (laughs). More so for Mugambi because he knows the character so well, since he wrote it. As the casting was going on, drafts were still being made. The writing went on to the day of the shoot. It was stressful.
Has anyone ever written a character with you in mind that you didn’t have to audition for?
The film Indulge Me, which won the first Machakos Film Festival. The guy wrote it with me in mind, though I still had to audition. I don’t think the series Groove Theory was written specifically for me but that guy was just me; Kati Kati as well.
What was your reaction when you heard ‘Kati Kati’ had won a prize at the Toronto Film Festival?
I was pleasantly surprised. But I can’t remember where I was; I’m not one of those people. But I feel that, with the way our industry is, if you get recognition out there, it’s hard to translate it into money here. With that reality in mind, your reaction is reined in a bit. You appreciate it because it’s amazing, but you can’t take it anywhere. If, for example, I went to negotiate something and I showed people that our movie won a prize at TIFF, it wouldn’t mean much because they really wouldn’t care. We are not yet there.
That is just sad
Think about it, I’ve done Briefcase Inc., Groove Theory, Tinga Tinga Tales, and I’ve been nominated for major awards like Kalasha. I’ve also been a lead actor but I’m not on local television. Someone may think I’m not pushing myself out there, but ask any producer... I think the industry is structured in such a way that, the better you become, the fewer jobs you get.
You have done plays as well
Yes, my plays are called 51, based on anthologies of my poems that I’m yet to publish. I take poems that I would love to perform then put transitions in between with the help of my director. It’s a genre of plays we call Zaphan, it incorporates poetry, spoken word, audience participation, improv comedy, singing, dancing and I even change on stage. I’m the main character on stage, but a cast would still come to maybe do a choral verse with me.
You can act, sing, dance and do all these things? What can’t you do?