KNOWN for her fluent Chewa dialect, Zowa Ngwira is a popular actress in her role as Tionenji on Zambezi Magic’s captivating Zambian drama series, Mpali.
Tionenji is a typical village girl who, as a child, was abandoned by her mother (Shupiwe) and ended up being raised by her grandmother.
The straight-talking Tionenji who later re-joins her mother in the city does not believe in holding back, but simply cuts the chase when expressing herself. It is this stance that makes her role on her first television drama so riveting.
Tionenji now wants to acquaint herself with city life. She is materialistic and believes that marriage is the only way to get out of poverty. A chat with the 23-year-old actress reveals that there are similarities between Zowa and the character – fondly referred to as Tio, which she plays in Mpali. Zowa describes herself as a very honest person, just as Tionenji is.
Zowa is a rising star in the Zambian movie industry. And, even though her arrival on the scene automatically saw her shoot to local stardom owing to her acting exploits, Mpali is Zowa’s first professional production.
“I did acting all the way from primary to high school and I did succeed in it. Yes, Mpali is my introduction onto the Zambian scene, but not acting in general. I did a lot of drama and arts in school,” she says.
“My mum saw an audition call for Zambezi Magic and she encouraged me to go for it. That is how I got selected and started the process. I was able to have a view of what Tio needs to be like as a result of the great directors we have,” she says. “But as time goes by, more interesting characteristics of Tio are beginning to show up.”
Zowa never, however, believed that she would be selected for the role.
“I did not think I would get the role, as many suggestions were pouring in as to who Shupiwe’s daughter should be. Many of my competitors were experienced actors and were so awesome on the scene. I was absolutely not confident,” she recalls.
She explains further that she has since been able to grow into her character, adding that each delivery builds on the overall character of Tionenji.
“Being on television has given me a lot of exposure. I have met people and interacted with people who I never thought I would. Getting to mingle with other actors that I admired from afar is a great impact that Mpali has had on me. It’s been amazing meeting fans and just enjoying all the support,” Zowa says.
Many fans would probably be wondering what Zowa used to do before she joined the Mpali set.
With an outright display of beauty and brains, the soft-spoken Zowa is a student at the University of Lusaka where she is studying Purchasing and Supply. And, unlike the razor-sharp Chewa speaking Tio, Zowa is a fluent speaker of English.
“I lived in Malawi for about one to two years, that’s where I learnt it (Chewa). English has been a language I speak every day with family and friends,” Zowa explains further.
“People always want to call me Tionenji when they meet me. They get so surprised that I speak English fluently. That’s one of the comments I get the most. I love taking pictures and meeting my fans. I appreciate them so much.”
In Mpali, Tionenji is in a relationship with Moses, young brother to the farm manager, Jairos.
Zowa is however coy on the subject of her own relationship.
“That part of my life is strictly off bounds for the media. I like to keep my love life extra private,’’ she says gently.
Asked what she would be doing if she had not been introduced to acting, Zowa says she would be focusing on school, just as she is now.
“But if the opportunity came my way, I would still get into acting. Acting is not a hobby or an extracurricular activity, it’s a full-time job that needs hard work and commitment,” Zowa emphasises.
“It’s wonderful being able to explore all the different people I can be,” Zowa says.
Zowa also reveals that she loves to sing at church, reading as well as spending time with her family and friends. Her advice to would-be actors is: “Follow pages of media houses as they usually post for audition calls. Let them try to attend auditions and give it all they have.”
A devout Christian, Zowa is a member of Praise Christian Centre in Lusaka’s PHI area. She says Zambezi Magic is living up to its mission to tell the Zambian and consequently African story, stating further that the channel is doing a great job.
Zowa, who is one of the many Zambians that have used Zambezi Magic’s innovation, says it is a great platform to amplify one’s acting talent and abilities.
“Yes, I definitely feel that they display a diverse story of what happens in a polygamous marriage. All the characters displayed are possible outcomes of any African situation. They are doing a great job. Zambezi Magic is a great platform for many talented Zambians,” says Zowa.
“I feel we need to explore more into Zambian storytelling and really dive into the true Zambian experience. So far, we are heading the right way. Mpali has great directors who take their time to ensure that you are comfortable in the role and are able to display your full potential. It takes a lot of support from all the crew and fellow cast members. There is a lot of help rendered to new actors like me to ensure we do our best.”