Updated: Aug 10
This story was written by Ado Nkemka, Co-Deputy Editor of Afros in Tha City. Ado is a musician and writer who explores topics on music, arts & culture, and mental health.
Misha "Lemba" Maseka is a multi-disciplinary artist: a filmmaker, musician and writer based in Mohkinstsis, also known as Calgary, AB. Lemba’s artistic vision is striking, her decisions are clear and intentional while carving out her path here in Calgary. Her songwriting and production influences include Ari Lennox, Carole King, Charlotte Day Wilson, Mereba and SZA. For vocal influence, she cites the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin. Lemba recently released a beautifully executed, ambitious three-part project titled Not That Deep. The project includes a poetry series and accompanying visuals, a six track EP, and a short film that debuted at Contemporary Calgary, which is now on the global festival circuit.
The Overall Inspiration Behind Not that Deep
Lemba wrote Not That Deep’s first song seven years ago; the project is a collection of poetry and music written since then. The overarching them is heartbreak – a universal experience. Influenced by her background in opera – specifically the aria where a moment of a character’s life is expanded into an 8 minute song, for example – Lemba masterfully creates an emotionally immersive experience that stops time to create expansive moments.
Bringing a Vision to Life
Lemba began writing the film’s script at the end of 2020. By 2021, she had a clear idea of all the material she wanted to include in the project. And very quickly, she strategized to have funding in place, applying to local and provincial bodies including The Canada Council for the Arts, Calgary Arts Development and The Alberta Foundation for the Arts. One thing she’s learned this far into her career is being wise about financial investment. This includes considering how to craft a pitch that is clear and understood by funding institutions. She says after the racial reckoning of 2020, a lot of institutions are “finally starting to listen, be a little bit more intentional about who it is that they [are] funding.”
Calgary, Alberta as an Artistic Homeland
As a filmmaker, Lemba’s mandate is to highlight everyday stories of the African diaspora and people of colour. “The representation of Black bodies in Canada is still extremely Eastern focused,” says Lemba. “People only think that we exist in Montreal or Toronto. So, I thought it very important to shoot in Calgary, Alberta, in pockets of this city that are very known for its immigrant African community.” Not That Deep set locations include 17th avenue, international avenue, in front of Habesha Mall, and Luke’s Drug Mart, a Bridgeland staple. As for music, she worked with local R&B, soul, pop and folk producer Colin Carbonera who performs under the pseudonym Rabino. Other collaborators include choreographer Sabrina Naz Comănescu and videographer Jessica Sanchez. Lemba says it was important for everyone “in front and behind the camera” to be from Calgary. The second track off the Not That Deep EP, Mandela Effect, was written in one sitting, within a month of a toxic relationship. “The way that it was written in 10 minutes is the way that it sounds on the EP, for the most part. I mean, obviously, save the production and all that stuff,” she says. The track sonically is quite different from the rest of the EP. “I wanted it there because it was the start of the ‘love story.’ And I wanted to challenge myself in a way where I was like, ‘What does it feel like to fall in love? What does it sound like to fall in love?’” Says Lemba. “Especially because it's acoustic-y, it feels like you're driving in the mountains. I think that's very much typical of a Calgarian love story. You start dating someone, they take you to the mountains. So I very much wanted it to be like you're falling in love in Banff, you're falling in love in Kananaskis, you're falling in love at the Nordic Spa. And ‘What are the sounds of the foothills of Alberta?”
Is it Really Not That Deep?
Not That Deep is an exploration of intimacy and closure – and yes, the title is ironic. Lemba challenges our tendency to invalidate our feelings evoked from brief moments and interactions. “Even if it's a brief instance of intimacy, of connecting with someone, how deep are certain interactions with people romantically?” She asks. “What is the nature of how we attach and detach? Where is the actual depth of that, and does it actually leave a lasting impression on your heart? Or is it not that deep?”
Thoughts on the Calgary Scene
Lemba spent time in Vancouver, Germany and Lethbridge, before “officially” settling in Calgary, in 2020. She says that while this may not be an ‘industry city,’ people are happy to help and she’s been embraced with open arms. “Because of its size, you quickly get to know everyone, even people at the top,” says Lemba. “If you really put yourself out there it is – I don't want to say easy, but it's simple. There is a simple way to get into certain rooms, or have a seat at the table. And, you know, some of that is luck, some of that is who you know.” She recommends that young artists build themselves creatively here before leaving, if they choose to do so.
Lemba is grateful for the opportunities she’s had in the local scene. While she acknowledges her privileges considering her family history and socio-economic position, she says “it’s still been a struggle for me. So I can only imagine a newly landed immigrant who wants to be a filmmaker, but doesn't even know where to look or how to write a grant.” The artist wants to see more engagement between arts institutions and immigrant, low-income, and/or communities of color. The youth of these communities often lack the knowledge and resources to navigate the arts scene and bring their creative vision to life. She shouts out Josh Dalledonne and Alex Sarian at Arts Commons, as “two men who I think are doing an incredible job at really trying to make genuine and authentic connections that are empowering us as a city.”
The Reception of Not That Deep
Not That Deep premiered last February at Contemporary Calgary, and Lemba was pleasantly surprised by the reception of her project. “The premiere was a really incredible thing, it was really nice to watch it with an audience,” she says. “We sold out the event; and specifically to watch it with a majority Black audience was extremely rewarding because I was writing what I knew, and I was writing something simply and very authentically, and there were moments watching with the audience that I was surprised landed in a way that it did. But I realized, ‘Oh, right!’ because they are catching the nuance, because it's a shared experience.” Due to the film's success, Lemba is currently working on expanding the story with the support of Telus Storyhive. “I'm super excited, because Not That Deep just keeps on expanding,” says Lemba. “ It's the gift that keeps on giving, and it's exciting to take it to a national level, and hopefully beyond.”
To learn more about Lemba’s journey and background, check out her Q&A profile in Afros In Tha City.
The Rozsa Foundation has partnered with Afros In Tha City to bring our audience profiles of talented and creative Black artists. Afros In Tha City is the only media collective of its kind – dedicated to amplifying Black voices in Mohkínstsis/Calgary. We write for Black people and allies. At Afros In Tha City, we share personal introspective stories with the goal of promoting empathy and understanding within the Black Albertan community. These stories also serve as educational tools for allies who wish to better support Black folks. We share business profiles with the goal of promoting Black economic sovereignty. We write about topics of interest, including music, current pop culture and local events, in order to bring visibility to notable Black figures in media, as well as to challenge essentialist ideas about Black personhood. We share tips based on lived experience in order to equip Black youth.