The creatives of ‘Iwájú’ shed light on the Disney animation, which is set in a futuristic Lagos

Director Olufikayo Ziki Adeola, production designer Hamid Abrahim and cultural consultant Toluwalakin “Tolu” Olowofoey are behind the new six-part series, ‘Iwájú’. Picture: Disney

Director Olufikayo Ziki Adeola, production designer Hamid Abrahim and cultural consultant Toluwalakin “Tolu” Olowofoey are behind the new six-part series, ‘Iwájú’. Picture: Disney

Published Mar 18, 2024


When it comes to animation, Africa is making wonderful strides in the genre. To date, we have popular shows like “Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire”, “Supa Strikas”, “Supa Team 4” and “Kiya & the Kimoja Heroes”, resonating with little ones.

And now Disney+ has added “Iwájú” to its stable.

The six-part coming-of-age series is set in a futuristic Lagos, Nigeria. It follows Tola (Simisola Gbadamosi), a young girl from the wealthy island, and her best friend, Kole (Siji Soetan), a self-taught tech expert, as they discover the secrets and dangers hidden in their different worlds.

Director Olufikayo Ziki Adeola, production designer Hamid Abrahim and cultural consultant Toluwalakin “Tolu” Olowofoey, unpacked how the project came about in a recent interview.

Ziki Adeola explained: “The origins of this project date back to 2019 when a certain someone that may or may not be to my left called out Disney and somehow, magically, they responded. Not to call us out, but actually get to know us.”

He was directing his comment to Abrahim, who just smiled.

The director continued: “Beyond the call out, they saw our story, watched our features, specifically the Chief Creative Officer at Disney, and she was fascinated by what we were doing to showcase African stories to a global audience. So a dialogue ensued and we realised there was a lot of synergy.

“We didn’t know what Disney animation would be like, to be perfectly honest, but actually taking time to get to know them, we realised they were very genuine in their desire to help empower storytellers to realise their vision and they saw our passion, our love and our talent for storytelling.

“It seemed like a match made in heaven and, a year later in 2020, the collaboration was official. We pitched a few ideas, ‘Iwájú’ was the one that made the most sense for a limited series.”

In terms of his contribution, Olowofoyeku said he didn’t have to research much as he lives in Lagos.

He explained: “I was born and raised here. And Ziki, who wrote the script, was born and raised here even though he relocated to the UK. So as someone who knows Lagos and visits regularly, he could write a story that would feel like it was happening in real Lagos.

The coming-of-age story introduces Tola, a young heiress from the wealthy island, her best friend Kole, a self-taught tech expert and loving son from the mainland, and Tola’s calculating robotic pet lizard, Otin.

“Yes, I’m more in touch with what’s happening on the ground because I still live here. So Ziki would run things by me so that it still feels correct or authentic and I might make some adjustments.

“And once we started going all the way with the artists creating art, the storyboard for the animation, and all of that, I would point out one or two small things to fix.

He continued: “I will give you an example, in the storyboards originally, we had someone who was trying to cross the road and a bike stopped so that this guy could cross the road. And the moment I saw that, I said no way, not in Lagos, a bike would never stop, it would keep on going.”

Olowofoyeku added: “So the storyboard artists had to tweak that. Overall, a good chunk of the team is from Lagos. Our costume designer is also a fashion designer and animator from Lagos. It made sense that this person would be our costume designer for the show.”

On the voice casting process, the director said: “Casting was very important because authenticity is at the heart of our creative expression. It was very, very important to me that we had a cast that could believably sound Nigerian.

Too often we see shows where the voice cast aren’t able to deliver on that so it was important that we made a statement with this.

“The process was quite straightforward actually. Disney had their casting agent who was liaising with a casting agent in Nigeria, and so they worked together to provide me with a variety of samples and auditions.

“I listened to maybe 100 different recordings of various actors and actresses reading lines from the story.

“Each character was very different so for some characters, the moment I heard their voice, particularly our protagonist Simi, who plays Tola, once I heard her voice, I was like yeah, definitely. She stood out. With the others, it was like trying to find a diamond in the rough, but they were all amazing.”

Interestingly, the launch of the show coincided with the release of the video game, “Disney Iwájú: Rising Chef”, which allows players to explore authentic African delicacies.

Abrahim said: “We worked closely with Maliyo Games and the team to bring it in a different format. The game is a cooking game. It focuses mostly on Nigerian cuisine and the different areas of it. Anyone with a smartphone can access it.”

On the show, he added: “You see a balanced view of what Nigeria is and you see it from an authentic perspective.”

∎“Iwájú” is streaming on Disney+. It will also be shown on Disney Channel (DStv channel 303) in April and May.