Lost Kingdoms of Africa

25 Jan

Interview with Gus Casely-Hayford
Creator of the “Lost Kingdoms of Africa”

Ranked as the BBC’s highest-rated factual show ever, “Lost Kingdoms of Africa” comes out on DVD release on 6th February.

A powerful four-part documentary that casts new light on a long-neglected area of the world’s cultural heritage.  A narrative that reaches back in time to explore ancient tales, such as; the long-lost kingdom of Nubia, did the emperors of Ethiopia really descend from the Queen of Sheba, the mysterious ruins of Great Zimbabwe and the magnificent Benin bronzes.

Watching this series gave me the jolt I needed to get up and know more about Africa’s ancient past. As part of my first step to deepening my knowledge,  I spoke with the Creator and Presenter Gus Casely-Hayford to understand his motivation behind covering such a compelling topic and his experience of producing the programme. Please read our interview below.

Follow these links to get a copy of “Lost Kingdoms of Africa” on DVD and the accompanying book. Release date: 6th February 2012.
DVDhttp://astore.amazon.co.uk/outofafr-21/detail/B0051GHTOI
Bookhttp://astore.amazon.co.uk/outofafr-21/detail/0593068130

1.    What are some of the key themes you would like people to take away from watching this series?

I hope the series and the book give people an insight into the beauty of both contemporary Africa and it’s amazing past. I hope people find out more than they’d expect, that they are surprised and it debunks preconceptions. I want people to realise the depth, complexity and range of Africa’s History and relate to Africa as a place we can all feel connected to and learn from. I also hope that the programme inspires interest, investment and perhaps some tourism.

2.    “Lost Kingdoms of Africa”, is ranked as the BBC’s highest-rated factual show ever, what elements do you think makes it so popular (besides your amiable documentary style)?

I am delighted at the success of the series and happy to be back for a second series – and I hope to do more television that celebrates African culture in the future.  The success of the series is that telling these stories is long overdue. People really want to know more. We also worked extremely hard to ensure that the stories were told authentically, with a real weight of research and with integrity. I hope the book will find its own way to people’s hearts, as the TV series has.

3.    Were you surprised at how much of the physical history was still there to find?

Unlike other continents Archeological sites are only now being uncovered in Africa, and their real significance being realised. There is a whole wealth of knowledge and history to be uncovered; for instance there are mass graves being discovered with bones dating back 3,000 – 10,000 years and areas of land just littered with pottery. It’s not like Time Team where you spend all summer dusting down a metre square area and only find half a tea cup.


4.    When you think back about making this series name two things that make you smile or laugh out loud?

I laughed all the time whilst making this series. I am not a dancer, but was called up to dance a number of times, usually with very embarrassing results that had my crew and I in stitches. But I was also equally inept at fighting as I showed to the Nuba.

5.    Many people, myself included, have now been inspired to take this journey. Can you give us a top travel tip?

I must say that driving on African rural roads has been sometimes challenging, but was for the most part completely exhilarating – my favorite drive is the road up into the Ethiopian Highlands to visit Debra Damo. My recommendation would be to attend a service at Debra Damo, the sixth century mountaintop monastery, in northern Ethiopia. Once you get to the base of the mountain the only way to access it is by a hide rope that you have to use to climb the final thirty metres. The secret is to arrive the evening before a service, preferably a saint’s day and ask to stay in one of the disused dormitories – waking at dawn to hear the chanting and to see the sunrise, before squeezing in amongst the monks for the service, is one of the most magical things you can do.

6.    Name two new facts that you learnt during the process of making this documentary?

I finished my PhD twenty years ago and have dedicated my professional life to promoting African history and culture. But even with my experience I learned a great deal working on this series – things like Africa having the longest continuous Christian tradition, the largest earth-built buildings, or indeed the oldest tradition of pottery.

7.    What was one of the biggest challenges to making this documentary (and what have you learnt)?

The logistical consideration when travelling those huge distances on a tight timetable is enormous, and we could not have done it without local expertise and the best crews in the world.

8.    What single piece of advice would you give to aspiring Art Historians in Africa?

It might not be in a book in a library …

“Lost Kingdoms of Africa” is out on DVD release on 6th February, the book comes out on sale on 16th February and the 2nd series aires on BBC4 at 9pm on 30th January.

It’s there to be discovered, it’s accessible and it wants to be known.

If you want to be enlightened about Africa’s deep history; get a copy and tune in.

DVDhttp://astore.amazon.co.uk/outofafr-21/detail/B0051GHTOI
Book http://astore.amazon.co.uk/outofafr-21/detail/0593068130

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One Response to “Lost Kingdoms of Africa”

  1. Marie February 5, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    So glad the programme is back for a second series, love it! will definitely be getting the books and DVD to eductae my younger familly members.

    Great interview and keep up the great work.

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