Squid Alley with Salim Busuru – Traditional African Art and Stories Excite Me

November 17, 20198 min read

Salim Busuru is an illustrator, character designer, comic artist, animator and game designer from Kenya. He is a founding member of Avandu Vosi, a creative studio based in Nairobi that was formerly UDK or Underground Design Kings.

Salim was inspired to get into art by the cartoons and 80’s anime he watched as a child and his brother who used to draw them. Salim Busuru has been drawing ever since and later went to school where he honed his talent and learned from others.

Salim Busuru has a very distinct, and deliberate style that centres Africa in his work. Salim loves telling stories as is evident in his character designs and concept art. However, this deliberate approach to his art wouldn’t occur until a conversation about creativity in Kenya in comparison to the US, where he realized his work wasn’t a true reflection of his own experiences and instead, was in response to mainstream Western culture.

Salim and his team have to their credit the comics RovikBeast from Venus and Dunamis. Salim Busuru together with his team, Avandu Vosi (formerly UDK), have created captivating and thought-provoking illustration series like Superheroes Need Not Apply? which imagines what famous superheroes would look like if they were from Africa and 10 Godz Poster Series, a collection of posters that depict the creation myths of ten Kenyan tribes.

Our curiosity got the better of us and in typical Squid Alley fashion, we had to find out a few things about Salim Busuru. What follows is our Squid Alley chat with Salim Busuru.

What are your go-to tools?

The Rainmaker Avandu Vosi Salim Busuru
The Rainmaker Avandu Vosi by Salim Busuru

My pencil and sketchbook. I have come to appreciate the feeling of lead to paper and also just going outside and sketching. I sit at my computer every day and work on the tablet so much that it’s uninspiring, so whenever I need to come up with something fresh I have to go to the pencil and sketchbook.

What inspires you?

NGAI NAROK and NGAI NANYOIKE from the 10 GODZ poster series by Salim Busuru for Avandu Vosi
NGAI NAROK and NGAI NANYOIKE from the 10 GODZ poster series.

In terms of art, it is traditional African art and stories. It excites me and so I try to infuse that in everything I do. I also like watching/ listening to guys who have made it in their respective industry both locally and internationally.

It keeps me going after the initial ideation of a project is done, the ideation is the exciting part but working on the pages of the comic or frames of the animation is a grind I don’t really like.  That’s why I say that I don’t really like making comics or animation, the repetition is hard for me.

My landlord knocking on the door also inspires me.

What major challenges do you face?

Devil in the Garden by Salim Busuru
Devil in the Garden by Salim Busuru

TIME! I have to do a lot to keep the lights on before I can get to do what I want, I have so many ideas queued in my head. 

What is your favourite (and most fun) piece of work?

Watercolour art by Salim Busuru

I like doing one-off pieces, like a character in a pose. I am now starting to work with watercolours, they are my new favourite pieces of work.   

Who do you absolutely listen to when you work?

Noise (Inktober entry by Avandu Vosi)
Rock Chic

Music with no lyrics, like lo-fi hip-hop beats, African traditional chants and other electronic melodious music. I like it because it gives me energy but does not distract me, if a track has lyrics then I find my attention split between listening to the words and trying to draw thus destroying my flow.

What do you do for fun?

Inspired by @kevinkarash and the photo by James emmerman.
Inspired by @kevinkarash and an Afropunk photo by James Emmerman.

I used to play basketball until my knees sat me down and told me to stop. So when my knees gave in, I focused more on video games, although I don’t have much time for that now. Hopefully, sometime soon I will, I just buy the games and keep them, waiting for that time when I will be able to play.

You have 24hrs in the Squid Time Tunnel to change something about your past. What would it be and why?

Cellarius the Forefather - Supreme Chief of the 9 Clans
Cellarius the Forefather – Supreme Chief of the 9 Clans

I don’t know man, because you cannot tell a good story if you have not lived life. The hustle, the failure, the victory, the happiness, all the experiences are things I have in my life library to help me tell the story I want to tell in the most relatable way possible.  But, If I was forced into the Squid Time Tunnel, I would go back and tell myself that it’s not worth looking at ‘2 girls one cup’.

What’s your hope for African comics, games and animation in the next 3 years?

Rovik by Avandu Vosi
Rovik comic by Avandu Vosi

That we have a catalogue of content, whether they are hits or not, we just need a body of work that is continually being produced consistently. Consistency in production is what I hope for, the rest will come.

The TRIOmphant Bonus: Who are your top 3 African creatives across comics, games, animation, music, technology etc?

That’s tough, but I would have to say (in no particular order):

  • Kelvin Sirnare from Kenya, this guy’s understanding of colour is insane;
  • Ifesinachi Adrian. I can watch his storyboards all-day; and
  • Evans Busuru, dude is a genius, he used to make beats and do graphic design but stopped those and focused on programming, we made some dope games.

See more of Salim Busuru’s work on ArtStationInstagramTumblr and Avandu’s Behance. Also, check out Avandu Vosi’s ArtStation for more of Salim’s work.

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One Comment:

  • Stanley

    June 2, 2021 / at 2:02 pm

    This is a great man. See you soon.

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