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Escaping Pressure and Loneliness: Young Queer Afros discover themselves

In an exclusive interview musician and producer Mansa (Lallo Darba) and director Sofia Aedo Zahou explain how the the idea to Mansa: An Ode to Self-Exploration came about and share surprising background information on many details of the 4-minute shortfilm. 

It’s kind of an odd story how this story came to be ...

Could you tell me a bit more about the film project and how it came about? What inspired you to make the movie ? Is the movie meant to be autobiographical ?

Sofia: Well, it’s kind of an odd story how this story came to be. Me and Lallo are highschool aquaintances and we met again years later when he had just released the EP “Solitude”. 

I kept listening to the EP and specifically the track “Mussulo” for weeks on end until I finally approached him and asked him if we could make a film for it. So from there we sat and wrote the story together, a story where we merged our perspectives, his as a Gambian-Swedish man, and mine as a Queer Latinx woman in Sweden, both coming from the outskirts of Stockholm. 

We discussed a lot about identity and the pressure of living under expectations that are pushed onto you by society. So in the end the film is very much a mashup of our interpretations of what loneliness within a community can feel like when you're offered such a narrow sense of what or who you can be, a topic where we both felt that we could strongly relate to in our own ways.

The movie is in many ways a reflection of my life

Mansa: I felt like Sofia really understood my inspiration and what my music, in particular my EP "Solitude", was about. After I read the first draft of the short film I told her like, it's like you know exactly what was going through my head when I was making this.  

The movie is in many ways a reflection of my life but I wouldn't call it autobiographical, it's more of a manifestation of integrity and a thank you to my younger sibling who's always been a source of inspiration for my music.


Producer and Director (left hand side) at work.

Which language is spoken in the movie and why? 

Mansa: Mandinka and Swedish are spoken by the characters. The proverb in the beginning is something my dad told me when I was young. When I was growing up he really wanted me to know about my culture even though he never taught me mandinka, the language spoken by the largest ethnic group with the same name in Gambia. Still he taught me this proverb to remind me of who I am. So it was very important to me to have this in mandinka. The Swedish is obvious since it's my native language, but I also think it's a very beautiful language.

Could you tell me a bit more about the cast and according to which criteria you selected them?

Sofia: We just thought of people in Stockholm that we knew personally or knew of that had sort of a similar energy as the characters we had written.For example, I had seen Demba at a ballroom event called The Scandinavia Ball and that happened almost at the same time as we were writing this script with Lallo, and I knew instantly to ask him to choreograph this. As for Denzel I knew of Denzel prior to the casting and it was precisely a striking person like him we had in mind as the person to inspire the main character to go on this internal journey. 

It was important to me that everyone in the film were Afroswedish

Mansa: To me it was important that everyone in the film were Afroswedish. It's what my music is about and it's the story I want to tell. Sofia did a beautiful job doing most of the casting. The rest were our friends who helped us out with everything. Both behind and in front of the camera.

Do you consider your movie to be a Swedish movie ? If not please explain and how you would categorize your movie yourself ?

Sofia: We purposely made it so that it wouldn’t look too much like Sweden since we wanted to create a visual interpretation of a feeling or a moment that can be familiar to so many people. 
Whether that be coming to terms with one’s sexuality, or the feeling of being inspired by another person that has gone through life further than you have and isn’t carrying the same inhibitions as you. We have discussed this question internally a lot and this film means so many different things to us internally just within the team but didn’t want to put a label on it and leave it to the viewers interpretation.

Mansa: It's up to the viewer to interpret the movie. I don't want to categorize it. It's a coming to terms movie I guess, about accepting yourself and embracing one's particularity. That means different things to different people.

When I was young the only non-western form of media that was accessible to me was Japanese anime

Could you tell me a bit more about the song of the movie and their relation? What is its/your relation to Japan? 

Mansa: The song uses samples in two languages: Bambara and Japanese. Mandinka is closely related to Bambara widely spoken in Mali. Mali is a source of inspiration for me since it is where the mandinka founded the Mali empire. Mussulo or Moussoulou means women in mandinka and bambara which is what men who don't live up to gender norms are often called.

When I was young the only non-western form of media that was accessible to me was Japanese anime, apart from some Bollywood and chinese movies. So me and my siblings who were searching for non-white role models loved it. This has also remained a source of inspiration for me in my music which is why I occasionally sample lines from animes that I like. 

The movie is about finding yourself in a context that was never made for you

It can all seem very confusing but that's what I want. I want to create music about the subjective experience of living in a diasporic context. It is ultimately a narrative about finding yourself in a context that was never made for you which is confusing in itself. This is what both my EP and this film is about.

Interview by Caroline Cornier, Rédactrice Cinewax 


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