If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.
When BET Africa announced that Nomalanga Shozi was replacing Pearl Thusi as the host of season five of “Behind the Story”, it wasn’t particularly jaw-dropping. After all, change is crucial for the longevity of any show.
The change in format, though, did pique curiosity.
To get the lowdown, I decided it was best to go straight to the source. I asked for a Zoom video chat with Shozi.
My interview was a little delayed on the day. She was feeling under the weather. But, being the consummate professional that she is, she didn’t cancel.
Looking as fresh as a daisy, she unpacked the past year, which wasn’t easy for the entertainment industry as productions ground to a halt for an extended period.
She said: “Well, it definitely was quite shocking. Everything went on lockdown, so it was hard in the first 21 days.
“And afterwards, it got a bit real. You kind of struggle a lot with your mental health and sanity, overall. So, for me, I kind of had a few struggles in that regard.”
But she was still able to continue her radio gig on Gagasi FM.
“It was just an issue of the lack of engagement, human-to-human, you know,” Shozi added.
“Not being able to do certain things or campaigns. We weren’t able to go for the BET Awards or any of the stuff we had been busy with the previous year. It definitely takes a knock on your confidence.”
Of course, with the easing of lockdown restrictions, work has resumed. And she’s not wasting time in seizing opportunities.
“I’m just working on stuff; going for other auditions because I do want to get my feet back into the acting pool again. I think a lot of people have forgotten that is what I do, primarily because a lot of my focus has been on the presenting side of my career, which is also just amazing. I’ve flourished in such beautiful ways.”
Shozi became a household name when she landed a role on e.tv’s Rhythm City. Since then, she’s bagged roles on other projects, among them the feature “Love Lives Here”, “Isono” and MTV’s “Shuga”.
That’s not forgetting her going to Las Vegas in 2018 to cover the BET Soul Train Awards.
Not long afterwards, she was announced as the host of BET Breaks.
On taking over the reins from Thusi, she offered: “It was a natural progression, to be honest, because I have been with the BET family for quite some time now. Longer-form interview-style shows are something I’ve really been interested in, along with other things.
“I needed people to know that I can hold a conversation down. For me, it came at a point when I was ready.
“For the channel, Pearl Thusi has been such an amazing host for the past four seasons. But the new format came at the right time to revive the energy of the show. She has done a really amazing job, setting a precedent for the show and creating a sort of a legacy. Now it was time for something new.”
In taking over, Shozi shoulders the responsibility of sustaining that legacy.
“Until now, the energy and the general attitude towards the show relied heavily on Pearl’s approach to interviews. It was really important for them to emulate what the name meant, to go behind the story.”
As such, it operated more in the space of investigative journalism. However, this time around, things are going to be different.
“For me, it’s a less aggressive approach, in the sense that I take a more conversational approach.
“Also, the format with us being in a car is almost like ’Carpool Karaoke’. I will be picking up a guest, driving them to a destination that means something to them and sort of getting the story of the person behind the name.
“The most important thing for me was to create a relaxed environment.”
This means no rapid-fire questions that seem more like an interrogation than an interview.
“It is a deep dive into burning questions. It is just not as tense. So far, we have shot a very lovely mix between young people in the industry who have a history, so that people are interested to know about them, and also sort of balancing it out with the veterans that a lot of people have not had a chance to watch and listen to in recent years, especially outside whatever work they are doing.
“That is really cool because it’s a nice juxtaposition of energies and generations as well, so it is going to appeal to a lot of people who look up to those people for different reasons.
“If you have seen the promo, we have Doctor Khumalo, Zakes Bantwini, Bongani Fasi and Norma Mngoma.”
As for the guest who surprised her the most, Shozi said: “I think definitely Bongani Fasi. He was one of the first people we shot.
“He was one of those people who were very guarded when they came on the show.
“Certain things, he didn’t want to talk about. So, this was off-limits and that was off-limits.
“But the more we got into the conversation, the more comfortable he got and felt that people could get to know him outside the headline and perception pushed in the public and media.
“He had a lot of things that he went through and still experiences today that a lot of people don’t really know about.”
Back to those auditions, she’s hoping for an international project to come along.
In the meantime, she’s looking forward to seeing how the audience reacts to her new show.
“Behind the Story” season 5 airs on BET Africa (DStv channel 129) on Tuesday, October 5, at 6.30pm.