By Verona Spence-Adofo

Nosa Igbinedion the creator of the ‘Rise of the Orisha’ franchise speaks with Ancestral Voices to discuss his latest project. Yemoja: Rise of the Orisha is the second chapter of the African superhero series. This 6-episode installment follows Amina, a young doctor who has her life thrown into disarray when a politician’s son dies under her supervision. Things quickly get more complicated when she becomes possessed by the water goddess Yemoja.

Unsettled by mystical visions, Amina must find a way to clear her name and come to terms with her transformation.

Hi Nosa, welcome to Ancestral Voices, we appreciate your time to speak with us. What was your motivation for making the ‘Rise of the Orisha’ series?

I had been making films for some time and found I wasn’t enjoying myself, that I was doing it for others acceptance. I said to myself ‘what is the one thing I want to see?’ then I decided to go out and make it!

Thinking of what I wanted to do, I decided upon bringing together my love for African Spirituality and superheroes to create an African superhero story. It was something that hadn’t been done and people had told me it couldn’t be done, I had to prove them wrong.

Upon reflecting on the Orisha, I realised how deep the cosmos of the Orisha was, I kept finding out more and more and realising how complex the belief system was. I decided this couldn’t be one movie or one comic book, it had to be a universe. This was how the ‘Rise of the Orisha’ universe was born in my mind.

Were you familiar with Orisha before starting this project?

I was familiar with the Orisha before starting the project. I am from Benin City in Nigeria, which is closely related in culture and geography to Yoruba (both are in the nation called Nigeria). Deities of the Orisha are followed in Benin City (as in many other places) sometimes in different guises. So as a son of the soil of Benin City I was aware of the Orisha and saw some of the practices related to the belief system. I have many family members who are Babalawos or just real deep students of these practices.

How would you describe your own spiritual beliefs?

That’s a hard question because I never really classify my beliefs. I am just am curious about uncovering the universe, reality and its meaning. Spirituality provides a way for me to understand this. I believe that it’s through the synthesis of different spiritual practices that truth can be found.

What are your thoughts on how African spiritual principles are perceived in the mainstream?

In the ‘mainstream’, in the west, I think African spiritual principles are on the rise, people are looking for something authentic and non-dogmatic. Having said that, these principles have historically been suppressed/oppressed and this has resulted in an attitude of disrespect to what are highly sophisticated traditions. Even in Nigeria, where this culture originated, many people are not accepting of it.

There have also been representations in the media of African spiritual practices as evil/ devil worship (people use the word voodoo as a synonym for a curse), which to me is really (expletive) ridiculous! Ifa/ Santeria/ Candomble etc… are one of the few major world belief systems that haven’t been spread by blood and conquest. People have been persecuted for practising these beliefs and it still grows and thrives. This is something special that must be understood. As the world becomes more ‘free thinking’, more schools of thought will come into the mix, African spiritual principles are due their time in the mix.

Has working on this series inspired you to learn more about the Orisha?

This series has inspired me to learn more about the Orisha. By asking questions we are staying aware to information about them and through research. People have been drawn to me who will teach me things I was unaware of or allow me to look at things a different way when it comes to the Orisha.

It has also forced me to reach deep inside myself and try to understand the Orisha, their energy and what they have to teach us.

Have you have any unusual/spiritual experiences whilst working on this series?

HA!! I am laughing right now to myself because there were so many weird things that happened, I truly believed that I was tested on multiple occasions during this film. Weird things from things suddenly not working, to things strangely going left out of nowhere, to finding myself stranded outside a location for the whole night before a 7am start for a shoot. (long story).

It felt like a certain trickster deity was constantly making things go awry to force us to grow. The strange thing is that 2 days into the process, so many things had happened that I begun to dig into my own spirituality more and more to cope. Every night and morning I would ask Yemoja to let me know that it was OK for me to make this, it almost became a mantra for me.

So while there were a number of coincidences that were strange, the biggest spiritual experience for me was internal. It was getting to the point where nothing really bothered me, where I felt I could handle anything, like I was standing on a hill overseeing everything happening from another perspective. Henceforth, the WHOLE process was a spiritual experience because it helped me evolve into a more spiritually aligned being.

What type of feedback have you received since releasing the initial short film Oya: The rise of the Orisha?

I have had an amazing response after releasing Oya. We have had hundreds of thousands of people watch the film online, featured in national newspapers in multiple countries, it has screened in festivals around the world and has had famous figures mention their love for what we are doing.

I think people are really hungry for these diverse and authentic stories from Africa and the Diaspora. They are tired of whitewashed stories (see the failure of the ‘Gods of Egypt’ movie). I think we are tapping into something that is bubbling in the collective consciousness.

I am so grateful for every bit of thanks and praise I have received. It all gives me energy. This is self-funded by me and my team and we have all had to wear multiple hats because we don’t have a big body backing us. So when I am 15 hours into a 20 hour day working on this and I look up and see a person saying they love this series, I get that energy to carry on for just that small amount longer.

Do you think films like this will open up a discourse about African History and Philosophy?

I hope my films and films of its ilk will open up a discourse about African history and Philosophy. We need to expand the discussion because, in popular culture and education, the African story is still presented as quite simplistic. The different forms of African philosophy are innumerable and the history stretches as far back as humanity can go. So to simplify this is a crime not only against Africans but also humanity! Can you imagine the jewels of knowledge that have been lost to antiquity, the pearls of wisdom that have been hidden. As my collaborator Mary Ononkponor says, I feel that now is the time of unveiling, something is being brought forth that cannot be halted.

As a filmmaker what is your ultimate goal for this series?

Every Orisha is a different energy, so every film based on a particular Orisha will have a different tone. Yemoja, in my opinion, is an energy of grace and beauty. I want to lead people on an emotional journey that gets dark at points, psychedelic at other times but eventually arrives in a place of serenity. This film is almost a spiritual journey.

This film also deals with the indoctrination of Christianity, especially in regards to Africans, so I wanted to question the paradigm that is portrayed as African bad and Western as good. I want people to see it for themselves but lets say when you see African religions portrayed in films are usually portrayed as demonic/barbaric and when Christianity is usually portrayed as civilising and noble. We do a total reversal of this in this film, which I think will be interesting…

What’s next for the ‘Rise of the Orisha’ series? Do you have any plans in the pipeline?

Next for the Rise of the Orisha series is a feature film starring the Esosa E from An African City, with a working title of ‘Rise of the Orisha’. The film has received some funding from Brazil and we are now looking for private equity from elsewhere. Once that is ready we plan to shoot in Brazil and South Africa.

I have written and am developing a comic book, which will be a companion to the feature film.

If everything goes to plan with Yemoja, then I would plan to make a series every 4-5 months based on the Orisha. So one could be Ogun: Rise of the Orisha then Osun: Rise of the Orisha and so on, each focusing on a single Orisha. Then the characters in these series would combine for a large feature film every 2 years (similar to marvels avenger movies). I want to do this and remain as independent as possible so I can remain authentic in telling stories based on African culture. To carry on doing this I need the people who want to see this to support this with their energy, excitement and their wallets. So firstly is Yemoja: Rise of the Orisha, out on the 31st of July 2016.