Interview: Rashid Abdalla is the Master of Secrets and Lies in the New Swahili Telenovela Kovu

Nothing ruins a family faster than lies and secrets that have been kept hidden for too long. When that family is as rich as the Hazes, then prepare yourself for unending drama, mystery and suspense as you watch Kovu, the latest Swahili telenovela from Maisha Magic Plus, now available to binge on Showmax.

Directed by Anthony Mbithi (Maza), Kovu follows the lives of Jaffar Haze (Kenneth Ambani, The System, From a Whisper) and his family, who have just relocated to Kenya after living in Tanzania for decades. The Hazes have it all, from private choppers to sprawling mansions, but beneath all their money, they are a family riddled with dark secrets that soon begin to unravel and slowly tear the family apart. Most puzzling is the deep hatred that Jaffar’s wife Alisa develops for her first-born daughter Rina (Sharlet Akinyi) – a reminder of a long-kept secret that torments her.

This strained mother-daughter relationship has left many fans on social media asking questions but Kovu’s creator and producer Rashid Abdalla is not spilling any secrets.

“Kovu means scar…and every character on the show has a dark secret or is hiding something because they all have a scar. Viewers have to join the dots as the story unfolds because there are some questions answered in every episode and at the same time many questions will still remain unanswered…what they should be prepared for is that in every scar revealed, a wound develops because every secret told is another secret kept,” Rashid says.

Already a hit with viewers

Through their production house Jiffy Pictures, Rashid and his wife Lulu Hassan have also previously produced other popular TV shows like Citizen TV’s Maria, Aziza, and Moyo, Tanzanian series Huba (Maisha Magic Bongo), and Maisha Magic East’s Maza which was nominated for Best TV Drama and Best Lead Actress in a TV Drama (for Angie Magio) at the Kalasha Awards 2018. All are Swahili telenovelas that have garnered a massive following, especially in Kenya and Tanzania, where an appetite for authentic Swahili stories has since been revived.

And Kovu is no different. Having premiered just a month ago on M-Net’s new channel Maisha Magic Plus, this Swahili telenovela is currently one of the most-talked-about shows in Kenya. But as compelling as it may be, Rashid says he wanted Kovu to have an impact on society rather than being just a unique and interesting story.

Set on the Kenyan coast, which is known for its cartel-controlled drug menace, the show was inspired by Rashid’s need to air out the drug menace in the society, which is run by “philanthropists” who pretend to assist the community but use it to cover their real intentions. On the other hand, he also wanted to showcase how some families are sometimes embroiled in turmoil and dark secrets, but at the end of the day, not all secrets are worth keeping hidden.

Despite its intense plotline, Kovu still finds some moments of humour, especially with the domestic workers who feed their daily gossip by listening in on their masters’ lives through kitchen walls and closed doors.

“Kovu is a very different story compared to what the Kenyan audience is used to. It’s too tense and thought-provoking hence I had to add some comical aspect to it, but if you are keen, they all have a story as well,” Rashid says

The enigma of Carlos Santana

While every character in Kovu is caught up in some intriguing storyline, Kovu’s most interesting character has to be Carlos Santana, played to perfection by Patrick Owino.

Carlos is as charming as he’s dangerous, a man whose debonair style, which includes a black glove, a fedora and a stylish walking cane, only heightens the air of mystery around him. Other than running secretive dubious business dealings, he also cares for a patient who’s locked away in one of the rooms in his big mansion – whether she’s really mentally ill or he’s just pumping her with drugs, we don’t know yet. Is she really his sister, like he says?

Rashid describes Carlos as a “two-phased philanthropist who is a guardian angel to society but really he’s the real devil.”