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Telling African stories through podcasting

 Nipe Story podcaster Kevin Mwachiro

Kenyan writer Dennis Mugaa’s descriptions hit close to home. They vary from pieces of Swahili thrown into English sentences in a way that only Kenyans do, to intense presentations of situations only locals can relate to.

Reading, or listening to his work will then always tell a tale of our culture and teach those looking in a thing or two about Kenyans.

His award-winning fictional story, Theatre Masks is an example.

“I joined Brookhouse in year 12 as a scholarship student.  My mother could never in her dreams have afforded the fees at the school. I got the scholarship when I turned eighteen, on the condition that I performed in all school theatre productions,” the piece, which won the 2022 Black Warrior Review prize reads in part.

It adds: “It felt like a slice of the world, a microcosm in which all cultures of the world were contained. I had not contemplated how people could be so rich until I looked at the worth of my scholarship and my mouth almost dropped.”

The story is one of the recent African literature works to be featured on Nipe Story, a fortnightly Kenyan podcast that airs audio readings of African literature.

As it progresses, the story is a roller-coaster that takes audiences through what has been described as: “A quartet of four high school friends have their lives turned around when one of them goes after freedom.”

Kevin Mwachiro, who runs and hosts the podcast, beams at the prospect of African writers finally being celebrated as they deserve.

“Sometimes I want to celebrate the old, highlighting some of our African classics- but it’s been hard. I also want to celebrate new African writers,” Kevin Mwachiro says, adding, “There are those who have won accolades. Like we had Dennis Mugaa recently, we had Ntsika Kota, he won the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, there was Idza Luhumyo who won the Caine Prize for African writing.”

He tells The Sunday Standard how Nipe Story came about, and it is just as its name, which translates to ‘tell me a story’ in Swahili suggests.

The podcast, which just aired its 100th episode, is about telling stories- and more specifically, fictional stories by African writers.

“The podcast is a celebration of African writing and African writers at different levels of their careers. It is a library of audio-african stories,” Kevin says.

His love for African literature, combined with his skill set, including a Masters degree in production pushed him towards the fast-rising space that is podcasting.

Finding his niche was one of the first things Kevin had to do, and it was easy for the podcast host to identify why his content of choice would be fiction.

“Everything has its own space and this one belongs to African literature, which I think is fantastic,” Kevin says.

He adds: “I love African literature and I feel like audiences may not have an opportunity to experience new writing and old writing alike. I read a lot. And this was one way to show how literature, especially Kenyan and African literature can be highlighted. It is also an opportunity for young writers to share their work.”

Nipe Story was born in 2017, when Kevin, who was teaching a class of media graduates about audio production at the Aga Khan Graduate School of Media Studies was inspired to take the first step by his students.

“There was one exercise where I asked them to pitch ideas and they produced their own podcasts- I felt that these guys are inspiring me, my friends are encouraging me, and that’s how Nipe Story was born. I figured I can’t teach and not have my own.”

He speaks about the podcasting space in Kenya- and when probed about how the local scene compares to the international one, firmly holds that we should not be competing. Rather, we should seek to inform, entertain and meet the audience needs with the stories that we tell.

He says, describing a good Kenyan podcast: “I think the most important thing is its reach and effect on Kenyan audiences, first and foremost. Those audiences in Kenya and on our continent- are they getting content that is geared for us?”

Kevin adds, "If we have podcasts that are just fully Kenyan and Kenya-based, then so be it.”

“We are hearing Kikuyu podcasts, Dholuo podcasts, and other locally-focused platforms. We don’t always have to fix our eyes on going international.”

When selecting a platform on which his podcast would run, Kevin went with Soundcloud at first, as he aimed at reaching audiences whether or not they had specific apps.

But now, with its growth, it is available on other platforms, including Spotify, which awarded the podcaster a grant dubbed the Africa Podcast Fund in October 2022.

“We offered the $100,000 (Sh14million) fund to 13 creators from South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana—the four African countries with the biggest podcast listenership,” Spotify said in a statement.

The digital music service app adds: “The fund also includes a Cameroonian podcast with a large listenership both in France and in Francophone African countries, such as Cote d’Ivoire. And languages abound: Given the wide range of selected countries, the winning podcasts are recorded in a range of languages including Pidgin, English, French, Sheng, Ga, and Twi.”

It’s not out of the question that we can now narrow down podcasts to African languages as with their evolution, podcasts have become more a reflection of our societies.

In an intimate way, they tell stories about people in different regions, shedding light on their unique experiences, joys and challenges.

“If you want to create a social impact in today’s world, you need people to care. But holding their attention long enough to get them invested is hard. That’s where podcasts can help you,” Podcast.co reports, adding that podcasts are convenient, good at exploring complex topics in an easily digestible way, and have mass appeal to all kinds of audiences.

The report adds: “Because they’re so convenient, people have more time for podcasts than they do for videos or articles. So you don’t have to simplify everything into a 30-second soundbite. You can go into real depth on the issues you care about, getting your listeners to understand the nuances of the cause.”

Other local winners of the grant by Spotify include popular podcasts like The Messy In Between by Murugi Munyi and Lydia K.M and Mantalk ke by Eli Mwenda and Oscar Koome.

While Nipe Story is about fictional work and African Literature, The Messy In Between (TMI) features hilarious banter and the wise words of the hosts who offer advice on love, money and work and encourage women to share their experiences without judgement.

On the other hand, Mantalk Ke is all about male-led conversations around issues such as toxic masculinity, fatherhood, feminism, dating, and self-care.

On the local podcasting scene, Kevin Mwachiro says: “We’ve seen the landscape in Kenya change so much.

Podcasting is hard but incredibly rewarding. We are seeing a lot more podcasts, a lot more genres (like the local language ones) and all that. There is so much scope, and people need to stop being scared of it, thinking ‘oh it’s not going to go anywhere’.”

He adds: “There are topical, conversational podcasts, others are interview-based- there are so many styles to explore. There is room for everyone- especially if you want to talk about a particular issue for a targeted audience.

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