époustouflant!

Something astonishing has happened.

The astonishing news was delivered in a fittingly astonishing way. A couple of months ago, I checked in with Mamie on WhatsApp, as I had been doing every few weeks. Someone in the Lo family was recovering from a serious case of COVID, so our conversations always started with that and then turned to, “quoi de neuf?” i.e. “what’s new?”. Over the past year and a half, life has slowed down on both sides of the Atlantic, so apart from pandemic-related news, neither Mamie nor I usually had much to report. Here and there, we would note a job development or give an update on a niece or nephew’s antics. But on April 3rd, Mamie said:

I am ok thanks! Lots of things to do lately with the organization of the club’s open house.

Oh I forgot to tell you that Tanti is popular now.

She then posted the following photos:

And she concluded, “She is playing the role of lawyer.”

If you’re confused by this, that’s okay. So was I. I responded, “Wait, what????? Is that a BILLBOARD??? Is she on TELEVISION?????? Whaaaaaaaaaat?!?!?!?!”

Here’s what I knew about Tantie to date: She was in her last year of college when we met, and she was studying something sensible like economics or management. She did dabble in the entertainment industry, but on a very small scale. Very early on in my time in Senegal, I filmed her audition tape for a VJ contest a local station was sponsoring. She did a one-minute intro for an imaginary program, and I remember thinking that she was quite good — a natural in front of the camera. She didn’t win the contest, but about a year later, she auditioned for a short fiction video that an environmental non-profit was producing, and she got the part. The whole family and I went to the premiere, and I was impressed by Tantie’s very intuitive ability to ignore the camera and just act (something I am incapable of).

But that was the end of it. I left Senegal shortly thereafter, and Mamie later updated me that Tantie had become an entrepreneur and started an agro-business. When I returned to Senegal two years later, I discovered that Tantie had somehow — without much agricultural training — launched an organic juice brand as well as an organic farm-to-market enterprise. I realized that Tantie really knows how to hustle. She put everything she had into the business, and for the last couple of years, it’s been her focus, with growing success.

So it came as quite a shock to see her face on a billboard, and to infer — because Mamie never actually said so — that Tantie was on a television show. (It was also both maddening and hilarious that Mamie “forgot” to tell me this earth-shaking news.) In response to my astonished questions, Mamie confirmed that yes, Tantie is on TV. She added, “And guess what, we are in downtown at this moment in a shawarma place and even the waiter recognized her. Cause the series is popular like Wiri Wiri.”

Wiri Wiri is the hugely successful Senegalese soap opera whose theme song transports me right back to the Lo family’s house in SICAP Baobab. The fact that Tantie is in a show that could be mentioned in the same breath as Wiri Wiri is downright époustouflant.

So I told Mamie that I needed to watch it immediately, and she told me it’s on YouTube. Below is the trailer. (You can turn French subtitles on to follow the Wolof, but there are no English subtitles, unfortunately.) Tantie is the one who plays novice lawyer, Aminata. She is also the woman in the trailer’s poster image below. WHHAAAAAATT!!!

I wanted to wait to post about this craziness until after I finished watching the series, but they are still releasing new episodes and I have no idea how many there are. I’m up to episode 22 now, in which they introduced a few new plot twists, so there’s no sign that they are anywhere near the conclusion. I can honestly say that Tantie is one of the best actors in the show, and that it’s quite entertaining television (if also full of the most convoluted plot points and hilarious product placements / advertorials — although those are also pretty entertaining).

Here’s what truly blows me away. Episode 22 was released yesterday and it already has more than 600,000 views. The first episode has 2 million. I’ve always seen Tantie through Mamie’s eyes, as the little sister with big schemes and dreams. But now I need to open my eyes and see her as the Senegalese TV star she is.

I can’t wait to go back to Dakar and be part of her entourage. 😎

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