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Tales of Kenzera: Zau artfully portrays Abubakar Salim’s journey of grief

Abubakar Salim is an accomplished British actor of Kenyan descent and the founder of UK-based Surgent Studios. His journey into the limelight began with iconic roles such as voicing Bayek in Assassin’s Creed and portraying Father in HBO Max’s Raised by Wolves. But, behind the spotlight lies a profound story of personal loss and resilience. 2013 was the year Abubakar started navigating the depths of grief following the passing of his beloved father, Ali Salim, to cancer. 

Unfortunately, grief is an experience familiar to many. For me, it was saying goodbye to my dear sister, Zawadi Mutheu. Even though the shadows of sorrow once surrounded him, Abubakar has become a beacon of hope through ‘Tales of Kenzera: Zau,’ a powerful game that delves into the theme of grief. Through this masterpiece, players embark on an emotional journey alongside Zau, a young shaman, as he grapples with the loss of his father and seeks solace in the mystical world of Kenzera. This article pays tribute to Ali Salim and all the departed souls of our loved ones, as we honor their memory through Abubakar’s transformative work.

The late Ali Salim shared a mutual love for games with Abubakar. Reflecting on their bond, Abubakar fondly recalls, “The first memory I have of playing games was with my father. From Red Alert to World of Warcraft, Legend of Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, and Golden Sun, we played everywhere from PC to console. Kingdom Hearts, in particular, stood out to me. It was the first time I encountered a protagonist who was vulnerable and not necessarily the strong, angry type.”

Speak Swahili

Abubakar was born and raised in the countryside in the northern part of London at Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. With a chuckle, he recalls, “Every year when it got cold here, we’d go to Mombasa in Kenya where it’s hot, usually during December. All my family is there, so it was important to go back often. I can speak Swahili but whenever I speak it people can tell I’ve got an accent.” 

He reflects on his upbringing, saying, “Growing up was interesting I didn’t know who I was. Even though I’m Kenyan I’m not Kenyan and even though I’m British I’m not British. So I was kind of caught in the middle of this whole thing. I think that’s really what influenced me into acting, because a lot of the time as an actor you’re trying to find the character, you’re trying to find who you are. So that as well as my love for games got me into acting and it was that feeling of wanting to figure out who I am essentially.” 

Wake-up call

Regarding his time in acting school, he shares, “I guess memories don’t always have to be very happy. So my father was ill just before I started drama school and he passed away in the final year of my drama school and I think that will always stay with me because that was the moment I realized this is real life. It was my wake-up call, especially since I was just about to enter the world as a trained actor. To be honest, it shaped who I am today.” 

As a student, he also gained valuable insights from his teachers and classmates, he recalls, “There was one teacher who was directing us on a play and he said something really profound to the class: ‘When you’re performing, you’ve always got to remember there’s someone in the audience who’s never been to the theatre before who’s seeing it for the first time, and then there’s always going to be someone in the audience who’s going to be seeing it for the last time because they might pass away tomorrow. You never know what will happen.’ That was one of the biggest lessons I had, and that’s the kind of mentality I approach everything.”

Journey of Grief

Abubakar reflects on his journey of grief, saying, “For a very long time, I’ve been trying to think about how I wanted to convey the journey of grief. It’s always been something that I’ve wanted to talk about because, I feel like from my experience and from listening to other people, everyone’s journey is different. I wanted to tap into my journey and talk about my experience, but I wanted to do it in an artistic way. That is what inspired me to create the universe of Tales of Kenzera. Actually, I was in South Africa at the time, filming Raised by Wolves when it hit me.”

During his time in South Africa, Abubakar met South African Sangoma (traditional healers). His grandfather, whom he is named after, was the Kenyan equivalent, a Mganga, and Abubakar was always fascinated by the stories his father told about him. Reflecting on this experience, he shares, “It was interesting because when you’re brought up Muslim you are told all this stuff is not true. It’s looked down upon but then ultimately, this is part of our tribal history. So it just made me aware and very spiritually attuned I guess. I do believe in the spirit, I do believe in the soul and I think that’s the element that truly makes us unique. There’s only one person who is like you in this whole world. And I think that’s why it made sense to me.”

Tales of Kenzera universe

Abubakar describes meeting Sangoma and delving into South African culture as a profound experience. He draws inspiration from his Kikuyu ancestry and interactions with South Africans from Zulu, Xhosa, and Ndebele, Bantu tribes  for ‘Tales of Kenzera: Zau.’  He explains, “Tales of Kenzera is the universe, and Zau is one of the many stories I want to tell. Zau could only be a video game, as it’s meant to be experienced interactively. However, within the Tales of Kenzera universe, there are numerous stories suitable for TV shows or films. They are all interconnected in various ways.”

In 2023, Abubakar rebranded his company from Silver Rain Games to Surgent Studios to expand Tales of Kenzera into various mediums beyond games. He explains, “Surgent Studios is all about telling stories inspired by human truth, beyond race or gender. Themes like grief and parenthood resonate universally, forming the core of Zau and other narratives.” When managing multiple projects, Abubakar says, “It’s a balance. A lot of the time, it just comes down to trusting the people you work with know what they’re doing but also trusting the process.” He finds balance through meditation, focusing on self-awareness and healing. He shares, “It’s not necessarily the meditation of sitting there and listening to the wind. For me, it’s focusing on yourself. It’s listening to your body and being in touch with yourself. The body heals itself.”

Okay to not be okay

Abubakar’s spiritual journey centers on kindness, humility, and overcoming ego. He emphasizes, “Every day presents challenges to overcome ego and stay true to oneself.” His support system, comprised of family and friends, became instrumental once he acknowledged his struggles. Abubakar shares, “The moment I realized that it’s okay to not be okay was when my support network, truly shined because I allowed them to.” Abubakar adds, “At the end of the day, life is for living. We’ve only got a short time in this world, and we don’t even know when that time might come to an end. My wife, daughter, mother, and sister serve as my main motivations, alongside my goal of retiring by 40.” 

Abubakar credits Ridley Scott, producer of Raised by Wolves, and his son Luke Scott who is a film and TV director, as significant mentors, stating, “The Scott family, Ridley, and Luke Scott have really helped me essentially be in a place where I feel I do have a voice” He continues, “A big inspiration for Kenzera was ‘Ori and the Blind Forest’ because of feeling lost in this new world.” ‘Tales of Kenzera: Zau’, was officially released on April 23rd, 2024. Abubakar aims to expand this universe further and explore new storytelling avenues. Additionally, his upcoming role in House of the Dragon aligns with his passion for storytelling, emphasizing the importance of powerful narratives across all his endeavors.

Listen and grow

In closing, if Abubakar could speak to his grieving younger self, he would advise, “Just listen to yourself. Be honest, don’t pretend to be okay. Once you can listen to yourself and be comfortable with that, you can then listen to others and grow.” Are you ready for an emotional adventure of strength and self-discovery? Step into the shoes of the shaman, reclaim your father’s spirit, and explore the captivating world of Kenzera alongside the God of Death in ‘Tales of Kenzera: ZAU’. Out now on Steam, PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch.

Wendi Ndaki
Wendi Ndaki
Wendi Ndaki is a versatile visual artist, writer, and passionate technology enthusiast with a keen interest in the intersection of art and technology. With a Bachelor's degree in Information Systems Technology, Wendi has accumulated 5+ years of experience as a writer in the gaming industry. She is deeply committed to merging her two passions: art and IT (technology), finding the perfect harmony where they converge. The video games industry, with its seamless fusion of art and tech, has become her chosen home. Through her writing and animated videos, Wendi aims to bridge the information gap, empowering creative tech businesses to thrive and flourish in their endeavours.

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