In Blood Psalms, the epic Showmax Original African fantasy launching next Wednesday, 28 September 2022, Mandisa Nduna stars as Burutti, an orphan taken in by the underground Chini tribe, “the cursed ones”.
Nduna, who also raps as ZuluMecca, has starred as Thuli in Hustle, Zen in Emoyeni, and Zethu in She Is King. She also made the final four of the Class Act reality TV series alongside 2022 SAFTA Best Actor nominee Pallance Dladla (DAM) and 2022 SAFTA and DSTV Mzansi Viewers’ Choice winner Abdul Khoza (Nqoba in The Wife).
Blood Psalms marks Nduna’s third collaboration with director Jahmil X.T. Qubeka after playing Birthmark in his South African Oscar entry Sew The Winter to My Skin as well as Nobomi SX1, the lead in Stillborn, which won the SAFTA for Best Short Film.
“When I first read Blood Psalms, I was blown away at how intricate the storyline is,” says Nduna. “I was also just so impressed by Jahmil’s thought process. But because I trust Jahmil so much when it comes to his craft, I didn’t have to really know the story in detail to want to be a part of it.”
In Blood Psalms, the Chini are the misfits of the empire. Driven to live underground, they are hunted and imprisoned by the Akachi. But they are also the guardians of dangerous secrets, and have magical powers that mean they can shapeshift into were hyenas when the moon is full.
“Burutti is a teenager who grew up as an orphan,” says Nduna. “Although she attempts to navigate and find her individuality within her tribe, she can’t shake the feeling that she does not belong. Burutti yearns to explore the world outside of her tribe. As an 18-year-old, she believes that there has to be more to life than what she currently knows.”
Burutti’s desire to leave the tunnels sees her clash with both the tribe’s matriarch, Mother Superior (Africa Movie Academy Award nominee Faniswa Yisa from Knuckle City and DAM), and her son, Overseer Mzinzi (SAFTA nominee Thembekile Komani from Knuckle City and Eraser: Reborn).
“What’s similar between Burutti and me is our eagerness to always want more out of life,” says Nduna. “It’s very rare for both of us to be comfortable with the mundanity of everyday life. We both have that burning desire to elevate to the next level and to not stagnate.”
When asked about the most challenging part of Blood Psalms, she laughs. “Every single scene,” she says. “My character had to do a lot of physical stunts. I had to undergo vigorous physical training for the role – from deadlifts to squats, you name it! I should’ve known that by doing so much physical training, I was definitely going to be challenged when on set. However, a particular scene that pushed me to my limits was when I had to hang upside down – that was extremely difficult to do. But in the same breath, I thoroughly enjoyed doing my own stunts. It was a challenging yet beautiful experience.”
Other key Chini characters to look out for include iLitye (Awethu Hleli from Knuckle City), Burutti’s best friend, and Ndiya Zazi (SAFTA winner Hlubi Mboya from I Am All Girls and Isidingo), a Chini servant girl who was chosen by the god Heka to become the Magi of the Uchawi order and went on to marry Letsha (SAFTA winner Mothusi Magano from Skeem Saam and Of Good Report), the mad king of the Akachi.
“I’m excited for people to see this first-of-its-kind show because these are the types of stories I grew up watching and reading,” says Nduna. “As a young African woman, to see them portrayed by actors who look and sound like me is incredibly exciting.”
Shot in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and North West provinces, Blood Psalms is a Showmax Original in partnership with CANAL+, the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, the Eastern Cape Economic Development Corporation (ECDC), the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) and the MultiChoice Innovation Fund, which supports South Africa’s most exciting entrepreneurs, enabling them to bring their unique, innovative and creative business ideas to life.
The first two episodes of Blood Psalms will premiere on Showmax on 28 September 2022, with new episodes every Wednesday until the end of November 2022.