Hakeem Kae-Kazim shapes young minds in Afro-futuristic film 'Riding with Sugar'
It’s not every day that one gets the opportunity to chat with the inimitable Hakeem Kae-Kazim.
After watching his mesmerising performance as Mambo in Sunu Gonera’s Afro-futuristic coming-of-age drama, “Riding with Sugar”, I was determined to maximise every minute of my one-on-one chat via zoom.
At the outset, I have to say that I loved everything about the film from Gonera’s powerful storytelling and masterful direction to the stellar cast and sublime cinematography.
The story, which has been 17 years in the making and is set in Cape Town, follows the journey of Joshua (Charles Mnene), a young refugee obsessed with winning a BMX cycling championship.
He hopes that, by doing so, he will carve out a more promising future. Although his dream is derailed by an accident, fate favours him with an introduction to Mambo (Kae-Kazim), an enigmatic teacher who is also a foreigner.
Mambo takes Joshua under his wing and, aside from broadening his view of the world, empowers him to use education to make a better life for himself.
Kae-Kazim expanded on why he agreed to be a part of this Netflix feature.
He said: “I’ve known Sunu for a long time, even when he started developing this thing.
I mean I wasn’t involved in the development of it but I heard he was developing the story over the years. We had a journey together. We were in America at the same time - him doing “Pride”, me doing “Pirates of the Caribbean - and having the same struggle.”
When Gonera finally completed the script, he approached Kae-Kazim.
“It was a no-brainer that I would work with him. I loved the character and what he was trying to do in a futuristic sort of vision of the piece.
“I loved the layered characters and the story and what he was trying to say on many different levels,” the actor admitted.
He added: “And Mambo is a prize because he is so complex and not a bad guy as far as he is concerned.”
What bolsters the film’s appeal is the wonderful screen chemistry between Mambo and Joshua.
Kae-Kazim praised his young co-star.
He shared: “He was a lovely young man to work with. And he really brings the character to life.
“It’s really great to have somebody who is that focused and that committed to telling this story and our story from an African perspective.
“And all the young actors were fantastic.
“They really put their hearts and souls into those characters.”
Politics and xenophobia are themes that underpin the narrative, too.
Kae-Kazim revealed: “They all come from somewhere else on the continent and have come into this one space and make (it) their own… and each of them has a different story for them being there and a different reason for them being there.
“For many of them, the main thing is politics whether it be politics from the country being mismanaged and having to escape as refugees because of hunger, war or violence.
“The underlying theme is part and parcel of each of the characters and each of that journey, coming from where they are to this one place on the continent where they can make it their home and continue their individual life journeys from.”
In the story, Mambo mentors a group of youngsters in dire need of guidance, love and shelter.
He said: “Mambo is very Afro-conscious. I see Mambo as very much as a father figure, who is there to educate and empower the next generation.”
No stranger to filming in Cape Town, Kae-Kazim sang the praises of the film’s cinematography.
“It’s beautiful. What this movie does, it shows the duality of the aesthetically beautiful part and the other side of Cape Town, which is the Cape Flats and, the less aesthetically beautiful part. That contrast between the haves and have-nots runs throughout the film.”
Before our interview ended, the remarkable actor encouraged everyone to watch “Riding with Sugar” because, as much as it is a wonderful visual treat and an Afro-centric, Afro-futuristic coming of age story, it speaks to young people on many fronts.
“Riding with Sugar” premieres on Netflix on Friday, November 27.