- Par Priya Sippy
Dressed in their traditional Maasai dress and surrounded by cows, siblings Kili and Neema Paul, new TikTok sensations from Tanzania, prepare to record their latest video.
A smartphone is installed on a tripod a few meters from their house in Mindu Tulieni, a small village in the eastern region of Pwani.
The nearest town, Lugoba, is an hour’s walk away. As the village has no electricity, Kili goes there every day to recharge his phone.
Standing in front of the camera, Kili, 26, stands directly behind his sister Neema, 23.
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Once the music hits, the siblings take turns doing perfect lip-syncing in Hindi and dancing to some of Bollywood’s most popular songs.
Over the past few months, their lip-syncing videos have become a viral sensation across India.
Their most popular video, a performance by Raataan Lambiyan from this year’s Bollywood film Shershaah, reached over a million views in a matter of days.
She is shared by the film’s main cast, Kiara Advani and Sidharth Malhotra.
The song’s original performer, Jubin Nautiyal, surprises the siblings when they participate in a live interview on one of India’s radio stations.
“Everyone in India knows you,” Nautiyal tells them. “You are famous!”
Streamed from Mindu Tulieni, where most villagers don’t own smartphones, Kili and Neema never imagined their videos would reach millions of people in India and around the world.
“At first it was just about having fun, we never thought we would go viral,” says Kili. “So when I started to see the amount of views and responses from people in India, I was so shocked. My mind was amazed.”
The inspiration for their videos comes from a love for Bollywood films, which Kili first saw when he went to school in the capital, Dodoma.
Although he did not know the language, he and his sister taught him how to sing in Hindi.
“Since I was young, I have watched Bollywood movies in local theaters in Tanzania and fell in love with the movies and the songs. When you like something, it becomes easy to learn,” says Kili.
“It only takes a few days for me to learn the lyrics and rehearse the song. I find out what the lyrics mean in English so that I can add the right phrases,” he adds.
“Before I even understand what the song is about, I connect to the music.”
Initially, Kili made the videos on his own, then he called on his sister Neema, who shares her passion for Bollywood, to join him in the videos.
“When my brother asked me to do the videos with him, I initially refused because I was too shy to be in front of the camera,” says Neema.
“But then I started to get used to it. It’s so strange what happened – we never thought a day like this would happen.”
Confusion in the village
The duo, who previously spent their days herding herds and cultivating the land, are now juggling their time by doing interviews for India’s biggest TV and radio stations.
Domestically, they are also gaining attention as Tanzania’s most famous TikTok stars.
Kili’s verified TikTok account now has 1.8 million subscribers. He opened his account less than a year ago, after hearing about the app from friends.
Neema has since created his own Instagram account, which has nearly 65,000 followers.
But while the siblings’ success story on social media has gained international attention, their families and fellow villagers in the community have no clue of their newfound fame.
“A lot of people here don’t have smartphones and don’t know social media. Even Neema doesn’t understand much. She’s having fun, but she doesn’t know what its impact is,” Kili explains.
“Everyone was very confused when journalists started coming to our village with television crews,” he continues.
“At first my family wondered why I was singing and dancing instead of looking after the cows,” he says.
“Now they’re starting to understand that I’m doing something right.”
‘A dream come true’
The duo have yet to make any money from their creative endeavors, but they may soon trade their life as a villager for a role on the big screen.
Local media in India are reporting that offers from Bollywood have started pouring in.
It’s a dream come true for Kili and Neema, who say they always wanted to be in the entertainment industry, but never believed it would be possible.
“We come from a small village outside of town, so I never thought my dreams of becoming an actress and being in front of the camera would ever come true. I just kept that in my heart. “says Neema, who, unlike his brother, has never lived far from Mindu Tulieni.
“To have the chance to travel to India would be extraordinary.”
With the world watching them, the siblings say they can’t wait to start working on new content for their followers.
“We just want people to enjoy our videos, that’s why we started doing it,” Kili says.
“Big things are to come, so our fans should stay tuned.”
Priya Sippy is a freelance journalist based in London.
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