#LAChats With Jiva’s Sne Mbatha, Stella Dlangalala & Zazi Kunene

We first heard about Jiva! in 2020 through a piece we did on Busisiwe Ntintili who is the Creator, Showrunner, and Executive Producer of this Netflix African original series. Her partnership with giant production company Netflix had since sparked anticipation from not only us but the whole country and the moment finally arrived to view this proudly South African piece of art. JIVA! is a fun and energy-packed drama series that follows the life of the talented street dancer Ntombi, who while juggling the demands of a dead-end job, family responsibility and a rocky love life realizes that her dance moves could be her ticket out of her working-class neighborhood in Durban.

The series launched last month and we had to get these three interesting characters spotted on the series for a chat:

Sne Mbatha is an established dancer and choreographer, having choreographed the Metro FM awards, MTV Base awards, and the SAFTAs. She plays the role of Zinhle – a fiery, fierce character who is recruited by Ntombi to join the dance crew. Ntombi, Buyiswa, and Zinhle were all good friends growing up but had a fallout following the birth of her child.

Stella Dlangalala is a professional dancer and popular TikTok personality. She plays the role of Lady E – the “life of the party”. She is a girl who knows how to have fun. She is straight to the point and takes no-nonsense.

Zazi Kunene is a young up-and-coming dancer. She is a theatre and film actress and played the lead in the SAFTA winning short film MOYA. She plays the role of Nolwazi – a super confident girl, who isn’t afraid to jump into a dance formation and show you what she’s got! She’s an incredibly sweet girl who is much younger than the other Trollies (the name of the dance group) but doesn’t let that get in her way.

Watch and read what Sne, Stella & Zazi has to say about their roles on Jiva! and more:

Before we get into the groove of things, describe in song lyrics the feeling you get when you are dancing. Which line would it be and who’s the artist?

SNE: Singing, I GOT YOU by James Brown. Singing a song they made up by Zinthle & the Trollies.

STELLA: Singing, Nicki Manaj – Romans revenge. “ Coz I feel like a beast when I’m dancing, I feel like I’m unleashing something in me and I’m always like show me the target and let’s freaking go.

ZAZI: For me, it’s Rihanna’s Man Down (singing the song) You, it gives me that energy you know. I feel confident. I feel like yoh! I can take on the world.

Congratulations on being selected for your role in Jiva! It’s always great seeing South Africans strive with their talent. Tell us all about how your journey with Jiva! started?

ZAZI: When I got Jiva it was absolutely amazing, it was so exciting. I remember I got the call in Cape Town and it just felt like God was sending me a message that this is your path. This is what you were always meant to do. Because I was still working on a job. I was shooting a movie in Cape Town and I got that call so it was like. It felt like God was sending me a message like you are on the right path, so the fact that now my work is now going to be seen on a global platform is absolutely amazing, not only for me. For my craft, but also for Africa for South Africa, because I want to thrive.

I want my country and the people in my country to thrive you know. So when the audience receives this I hope that they take away, confidence, the take away the fact that they are able, if anything, they are able and they will do it you know because I come from a small town called Pietermaritzburg and growing up I had these big dreams, like ok, I can do it you know, but when you actually are active about it and you are doing it and you are trying to do it it’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard to get there but the fact that I’m here now, its only god, it’s only you know the talent that God has given me and blessed me with and which I am so grateful for, uhm and that’s all that I want the audience to take away from this. I want them to take away our culture also from Africa, you know our dance, our acting, our authenticity our storytelling coz that is what we are and it’s about time that Africa and the world sees this

STELLA: For me, do you know it the getting this. It felt like I remember saying this in a previous interview and it felt like I was in a long line at home affairs and I just didn’t know when my turn was coming and eventually they called my number and I was like, is that me finally I was front of the line. I was finally getting my chance, you know, coz it’s been a long wait, a long wait of working hard, being resilient, consistent even when things don’t make sense.

Just believing that this is what I want to do, this is what I’m meant to do this is what brings me joy, and watching me do this it brings them joy as well so I need to stick it out. So when I finally got this opportunity to be on Netflix, to play a lady it was just about time, it was also like Zazi was saying god saying I got you. I know that it takes a while I got you. And you just have to trust me. And unfortunately, God’s timing is the same as our timing and sometimes it’s confusing. Sometimes it’s painful but he’s got us and he was assuring me no I got you and there’s so much more to come for you so ja.

SNE: Look, the process for me was unexpected coz I was going through so much. I was literally sitting and busking in rock button and depression and all of that and this came and the ladies just mentioned that it was an answer from God and I’m a believer of god but I’m more ancestral and it spoke to ithlozami my ancestor and I just felt like it was such a blessing. Uhm but being part of jiva the actual show it taught me, groomed me, humbled me, it matured me. The whole experience, especially I think doing it mid pandemic you know from the beginning of the pandemic to the middle of the pandemic and all the way right through till now. It taught me how to be stronger, smarter to think futuristic and to be more open, and be lenient to taking advice and learning and experiencing. Uhm so it was also as much as I’ve done adverts it was like a whole different experience for me because it’s my first time acting and being in a production where you have the full production here.

Like Camera crew and then on top of that the safety officer walking around making sure that everyone is sanitized. You’re wearing your mask if you are not on set. It was a lot to take in having it being my first time experiencing this; it was nowhere close to the commercials that I’ve done. Nowhere close to the stage work that I’ve done and uhm like I’m saying it pivoted in a way that matured me. That groomed me and ja so being part of this whole production and being part of Netflix itself. Just t speak on Netflix itself that they have given me an experience and it’s not just me being hired for the job and I need to perform but also giving me an experience as well, of what it’s like to take artistry seriously being rewarded for it as well coz I mean were going global let alone global. We get to tell our story 100% and to work with a writer like Busiswe Ntlili and directors like Scottness, L Smit, and Mr Mandla Dube. People who are locked. I even remember having a chat with the DOP Goapie an award-winning director of photography. She is phenomenal. I remember speaking to her and she was just giving me advice on. I got advice from literally everyone, even the catering people.

I would speak to creative director Mpumi. I would speak to s many people and this whole experience and those people’s hands played a huge role in making Zinhle that I was in front of the screens. Let’s not even forget my girls, my team that helped me, I spoke to Zazi, Stelle, Nox, Candice, and at different times they. Everyone supported me. To them, it may have been this small, but it was everything to me because I had no guide at all. So from a naked experience to being overwhelmed, it was everything to me

Who do you play in JIVA! and what is your character all about?

ZAZI: So I play Nolwazi, she is a high school character. She is this high school popular girl, you know chommie you popular and you got everything, you know you have that thing about you. So I play Nolwazi. She’s bubbly, she’s fun, she is inquisitive, she wants to know about everything, you’ll see on the sow show. She asks questions. She’s a chatterbox. She’s fun man and I think I loved playing her because I wish I liked that while playing her you know uhm, I really really wish I was like her growing up, coz she’s this confident girl.

You can’t stop her from what she wants to do and now she’s introduced to this beautiful team of girls and group of girls, of this sisterhood. As much as they going through their own things but they come together when they have to come together they thrive when they are together you know so man that’s Nolwazi that is the popular girl, that TikTokker, hey what do you do baby That is Nolwazi.

STELLA: I play Lady E and she is the oldest g in the group and she is very reserved but also cool and out there. She is a gents kind of a girl. She prefers to be around the gents instead of the girls and she is a pantsula dancer which i don’t think I know, I find it to be very cool. I find her to be just very very swaggy and a badass, uhm you don’t see much of her you don’t get to know too much of her right now, so hopefully, in season 2 she’ll be able to dig deep but just seeing her there is also just enough to be curious about her and really like her and maybe even fall in love because she’s for the babies so ja.

SNE: So I play Zinthle. Zinthle in the crew is such a loudmouth and also she has a relationship with Ntombi, an old high school relationship. They were all besties and basically disowned her when she fell pregnant and all of that. So she plays the person that was kind of holding a grudge against Ntombi Nomwisa and over time she eases up, she has a very strong relationship. Lady E, because these two ladies (      ) disowned her. She decided to be besties with Lady E someone who speaks her language, who doesn’t judge, who supports her and nurtures her because Zinthle had to raise herself after being kicked out of her home and lady e has been there to support her morally emotionally mentally and even financially so ja Zinthle is the passionate dancer she never stopped dancing and she feisty, she funky. She is the whos the girl. She goes for it, she’s just tryna exist and all of the slaying queens. She just wants to slay as well but she’s mad at that too, Zinthle, she’s hectic.

What lessons have you learned about yourself from playing your character, this could be a personality trait that you love or loathe or something the character says that has caught your attention and would apply in real life? 

ZAZI: For me, I think to not criticize myself, especially on my craft. I’ve never played a character like Nolwazi in my life. She is bubbly, she is fun, she is the light of the group you know. She brings that belief in the group, knowing the tension is high and she’ll just ask a stupid question you know whatever so she is that young girl that is just living her dream that is fun and bubbly. I’ve learned that to not criticize myself on my craft and not also, I don’t want to stop/limit myself from exploring different characters from playing my inner child wants to play, my inner artist wants to play and I need to learn to not stop myself.

I’ve always played emotional characters from the beginning of my career, which I started at a very young age. Thank god, I was very fortunate for god to give me those opportunities when I was younger. I need to learn how to play and be open to different characters and Nolwazi helped me with that. Nolwazi was just the perfect character to explore that, to explore the person that I am, the artist that I am and I learned so much from that and I am going to continue to learn because you don’t stop learning in this industry.

STELLA: From Lady E I have learned that you know that line where she says the confidence of backing yourself and of standing on the hours and the training and the experience that you have from your craft. Like you don’t undermine yourself and you can’t play it small. It’s not about being arrogant, it’s about just owning that you are good at what you do. There’s no need to compare yourself to other people, just be yourself and trust that it’s good. Know that it’s good and when people say that you are good believe yourself that you are good and tell yourself that you are good. Walk in the power of that like I know my shit, this is what I do. I’ve learned from her and it’s obviously in a way like you know girl, you’ve got this, yes there’ll be bad days, years but you’ve got this, but obviously, that’s not to say your not learning you’ll always keep learning. You’re the shit and own it.

SNE: Zinthle the character, I don’t like a lot of things about her personally because I think I like to believe that I’m such a nice person I really am a nice person. I feel like people misunderstand me. I love laughing, I love people, I love being around happy spaces, I love. I’m a horrible singer but I love singing. I hated how angry she was and how she always liked throwing jabs at people. She was always coming for Nomwiso. I loathe it.

One thing that I liked about Zinthle is that she’ll back her team up, no matter what she’ll speak up for her team. She was there for Lady E, that is something I naturally do. it’s who I’ve been in the dance industry period. I’m a hype man. I can’t let someone else be left behind and some people will take that as an aggressive manner like she’s pushing me, she’s bullying me. Now I can see the goal, let’s go. Zinthle was thinking for herself and the money and I didn’t like that. I like how she’s not going to compromise her child. She is not willing to compromise. I need to stop compromising myself because I’m such a people person. I will compromise myself to the last bit, even when people think I don’t have enough. I’m easily forgiving. I like that she has boundaries for herself like you know what. You cant suck me dry. That’s 1 thing I’ve learned from Zinthle. I need to learn how to say no at times, but I don’t wanna be bitchy like her. She’s bitchy for no reason.

How important of a role do you believe a platform like Netflix plays in not only allowing original storytelling, but opening opportunities for local talent to be seen in every continent?

SNE: I appreciate the curiosity that Netflix has for African storytelling and its authenticity. I appreciate a team that does that. That says look here, yes you guys have all the talent in the world but what’s your story. That curiosity speaks a lot and I appreciate the role the uplifting the entertainment industry at they have played in bringing the Hollywood dream to Africa it’s uplifting the industry, its uplifting families. Even my mom went and bought wifi, she’s about Netflix, she’s not seeing other shows, and the fact that the package is so affordable it’s so cheap. Netflix is not just saying we’re gonna bring you quality, we are fitting ourselves with Africans and are not going to change us.

STELLA: Agrees with Sne.

ZAZI: I’m excited about black excellence, black women, black men. Finally, our work is going out there. I think it’s just the opportunities for us, they are endless for us to collaborate in work, with people in Hollywood, with people. Black child, it’s possible. It’s what I believe in, I just bask in that glory of the black child making it possible. As a young person, and now Netflix has decided to come to Africa to economically invest in our stories. That is huge, that is big, that means we were doing the right thing. There is something that we are doing right and we need to continue doing that. It’s absolutely amazing. And we are basking in it aa the Jiva girls, ladies, cast. In all its glory everyone contributed so amazingly to this project and we are about to do more.

What’s the one South African Dance move that you love and why?

SNE: I don’t have a specific move, I’m an all-around dancer. I love pure South African dance. I’m falling In love with the new Nigerian & Ghanian dance. It’s very difficult for me to answer, I love to dance and I don’t do a specific move, it’s all of them.

ZAZI: Sne’s right, it’s difficult to choose one, especially for me, we learned a lot of dance moves, we learned a lot of genres that you couldn’t think you’d do. It’s so hard to choose. 

STELLA: It’s difficult to choose one, there are so many different moves that come up for me. I’ve always appreciated the gwara gwara, there’s so much you can do with it. It’s a vibe.

What’s next for you when it comes to acting, any upcoming roles?

SNE: I don’t have any roles coming up any time soon, because I don’t think I’m ready to be cast yet. I want to focus more on coaching. I’m studying acting now, I’m trying to better myself first. My target is Pearl Thusi energy, I’m not just doing an emotional movie I don’t know how to do much of that. I want to be the first South African actress that does mission impossible.

STELLA: That is a question for God.

If you haven’t already, make sure to watch JIVA! on Netflix and see these lovely ladies showcase their art!

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