Twende – Collaborating to Connect Africa to the World

While a creativehub of filmmakers gather at Annecy International Animation Film Festival this week, we reflect back on some awesome animations we’ve had the pleasure of collaborating on. A recent highlight for us is the series ‘Twende’ brought to life by showrunner Greig Cameron and produced by London-based Braintrust and Johannesburg-based Mind’s Eye Creative.

The show (which was the first Showmax original 2D animation series) premiered in December 2023 and is about Twende, a slow moving boda boda (motorbike-taxi) driving pangolin in the fictional African city of Milima.

At Pressure Cooker Studios we are passionate about connecting the authentic sound of Africa to the world, while elevating the local industry to a global standard. Shows like ‘Twende’ raise the bar of our industry by competing on the international stage.

To quote Greig:
Twende may be set in a fictional version of Nairobi, but it was made by a team from all over Africa and beyond. We had American creators, UK producers, Kenyan voice talent, a South African Animation Studio (and composers, of course), and writers from all over the continent. It is brimming with African talent and ideas, but it also has voices from beyond the continent.”

We’ve worked with Greig Cameron on some of his past projects (Supa Strikas and Netflix’s Seal Team) and we were thrilled to be involved in creating original music for this hilarious show.

We asked Greig (the Series’ Director) a bunch of questions so we could share his juicy answers with you:

What was your vision for the series?
My uncatchy catchphrase for Twende  is, ‘It’s a pan-African animation comedy extravaganza!’ Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? But hopefully, it’s true.
It’s my first time writing and directing an 11-minute show, so I wanted to lean into the cartoony fun of that format. I was drawing from the late 90s and early 2000s shows that made me want to work in animation: The frenetic, fast-paced, fun-first silliness of shows like Cow and Chicken, Dexter’s Lab, and Freakazoid was my north star. The more jokes, gags, silly moments and over-the-top poses we could throw in, the more I was grinning from ear to ear.
One of our storyboarders said Twende is ‘wall-to-wall with some of the smartest dumb jokes in animation.’ I’m going to put that on my gravestone. 

What was your music brief to Pressure Cooker Studios?
I always start with something positive like ‘Abandon all hope, peons! Your god can’t save you now!’ I have worked with the team at Pressure Cooker Studios on so many different projects now that I feel it is my duty to keep them suffering, I mean growing, creatively. 

The biggest challenge in Twende was finding a balance between the ‘African’ sound our producers wanted and using everything in the toolbox to create a score that reflects the action, comedy, and drama of the show. 

Getting onto my own little soapbox for a second, orchestral scores, rock, pop, or any genre are just as African as they are Western. It’s not just Djembes as far as the eye can see down here. But I understand that we wanted a unique sound to really set the show apart. 

We used the Kenyan genre, Benga, as much as possible, but its upbeat poppiness didn’t always work for more action-heavy or drama-filled moments. 

Ultimately, I asked the team to concentrate on combining local instrumentation with whatever melodies they thought scenes needed to craft a unique yet familiar flavour. One of the best examples is the jangly oil drum guitar the team used for our cheesy 80s music in an episode where Twende gets hypnotised into being a motivational speaker. 

How do you think the music elevated the storytelling?
Twende had a lot of diegetic music (see definition below) where the composition wasn’t just about tone and mood but served as an essential part of the story. The chicka-chicka-chicka funk guitar was pretty much a character unto itself in our heist episode. Twende the Muse, where our pangolin hero becomes the inspiration to a self-obsessed pop star, is non-stop music. 

That episode had almost an album full of original songs, including a climactic piece that, for bizarro animation plot reasons, needed to become more chilled as the scene’s tension grew. It was not an easy task, but, as always, the team knocked it out of the park.

Pressure Cooker Studios Composer Keith Kavayi has some thoughts to add on his experience writing the music for ‘Twende’:

“Greig has a keen understanding of the narrative role music plays and we’re extremely grateful that he entrusted us with this project.
Although I was primarily leading the project, each episode had a minimum of two composers focussing on it (one main writer and a supporting composer). We take our ‘made by many approach’ seriously at our studios, and have a robust feedback process in place across all our projects to make sure there are always multiple ears ensuring the work is as good as it can possibly be. 

For Twende we needed to immerse ourselves in the world to understand the music genres and key instruments that are unique to East Africa (mostly Kenya) so that we could implement them in our writing template. Benga music is a style that shows up across every episode. It’s tone and overall positive feeling helped to establish scenes, close off episodes, and everything in between. The traditional orchestral sound was important to help push the storytelling, and what we found was that combining the African sound with the orchestra worked very well for the show.

We have a lot of marimba in the show because it blends particularly well with the orchestra. Most of the percussion instruments used were already in our database, but the main thing we had to make sure to get right was the electric guitars. You can generally tell what region is being represented from the way an electric guitar is played. Benga music has a distinctive style and what helped was having recorded parts from our Kenyan collaborator Eric Musyoka to give us that authenticity

My highlight was writing an African version of old 80s style motivational music for Twende’s alter ego. That was particularly fun to do. Through that I’ve learned that it’s always good to fuse multiple genres together to create something interesting and unexpected. It makes it possible for a much wider audience to feel included in the musical journey of the show.”

As the lead character Twende would say: ‘life is about the journey, not the destination’. If you haven’t slowed down to enjoy the ride that is Twende, we suggest you log onto Showmax and do just that.

(of sound in a film, television programme, etc.) occurring within the context of the story and able to be heard by the characters.