Yafesi Musoke is a comedian, script writer, TV commercial star and all round creative. He talks to us about making it in the creative industry and what it is like to be married to a fellow artist.
You’re Ugandan but have been in Kenya for more than 35 years. What made you move?
I’m originally from Kampala but was born in New Delhi, India. This is confusing. See my life. Anyway, my parents migrated during the time (former Ugandan President) Idi Amin was trying to oppress anyone who was educated.
You have made quite a name for yourself here in Kenya from scripting shows to being the star of a number of commercials (KCB, Airtel, Pascha milk and KRA). What makes you so sought after?
I think I get picked sometimes because of my facial expressions. Usually agencies or production houses that have worked with me on radio commercials or have seen me on stage recommend me. I still have to go and audition like everyone else.
There was this one interesting one though; the iTax ad.
I had come in that morning to record a radio script. I was reading as Papa Shirandula’s potential son-in-law. Now, the corresponding TVC shoot was scheduled for the next day, and shock on them, they hadn’t yet found someone to play that part. But after the animated way we did the radio ad with Charles Bukeko (Papa Shirandula TV show star) and Jackie Nyaminde (plays Wilbroda), I was told, “Go and audition.” So I did.
Then what happened?
Within two hours, I was told, “You have the part. We shoot tomorrow.” Amazing! I don’t even have a TV face, or hair, or teeth… so it really is God’s immense mercy that I’ve had that privilege.
You’ve written scripts for many productions. Name some of them and tell us which one is your favourite
I’ve written for stage, screen and radio. For stage I have written Village Musicals (Easter and Christmas), and a few plays, while for screen I wrote “Briefcase Inc,”, “One In A Million” and was one of the writers for the musical drama “Groove Theory”. I’ve also written on a couple of other shows like Mheshimiwa and Tahidi High, plus a few TV and radio commercials.
My favourite show to write was Briefcase Inc. It was based on a true story (created by my wife), and it brought a different kind of humour to the local screen, and helped boost some artists’ careers. It was also my first ever TV script to write. I didn’t even know how to write for TV!
Today I’ve scripted more than 300 episodes of TV shows over the years.
Speaking of your wife – Joyce Musoke – she is also a creative. Tell us your love story.
We’ve been married for 12 years now. We met one fine morning at Daystar when I was walking with some friends – it was about 10am – and we met this beautiful young lady going the other way heading to class. One of my friends who knew her, stopped her and asked her, “How was your night?” She said, “I don’t know. I was asleep.” And I was the only one who caught the mirth, and I reacted audibly.
She smiled at me, relieved that someone got it. Everyone else was busy pondering their own recollection of the previous night. That’s when we were introduced, and I remember thinking she spoke really well, and was good at handshakes – not those flimsy ones where the wrist is left dangling delicately. I don’t like those. Joyce’s handshake was firm. Then we discovered we shared a class, and a fun friendship began. We’ve dated for the last 17 years; married for 12.
Did you have any culture blending issues?
Not at all. I’ve grown up in Kenya. Most guys I meet get shocked to discover I wasn’t born here. We dated for almost five years. But even when we were getting married, our relatives got along from the beginning, and still do. There is still sometimes the uncertainty when visiting the older folks from Uganda about whether or not Joyce should kneel when greeting them (traditional Ugandan show of respect) – depending on where we are, but usually there is insider information available for her.
My family loves Joyce (probably more than they love me), and on the other side her family doesn’t seem to mind me too much.
How old are you and your wife?
I am 39… my wife will decide for herself how old she is.
How is it being married to a fellow creative?
Obviously the advantage is that she understands the work I do. We also have some deep inside jokes (we laugh a lot), and just like in campus, we can do projects together. Joyce and I are different kinds of creatives, so we each have strengths that complement the other. One challenge is that if the industry suffers a slump or a dip, we both get hit. To avoid that, we’ve had to develop skills that distinguish us individually so we can support each other throughout, and avoid being in a dip at the same time. And we have to be honest about each other’s art. Others are not always honest with me, for whatever reason, so I trust Joyce’s observations and critique, because she has more to lose by not being honest about something she’s passionate about.
Tell us about your children
We have three brilliant children; 2 boys and a girl. Tendai is 8, Joanna is 5 and Alan is 1. Tendai is a little chess genius, Joanna is a confident performer and Alan loves animals. Parenting is not for wimps by the way. Few things reveal your true nature like being a parent. But even fewer things give you as much material for comedic content. But when a child, of his or her own accord, does something commendable that you taught them, or that they observed in you – the feeling is both amazing and humbling. It’s also surreal to watch a small human walking around who looks exactly like both of you.
Great. What advice can you give to people who want to get into comedy or script writing, or ads?
I read that there is no such thing as an aspiring writer. You want to write? Write. Read. Observe. Write. There is content everywhere. Mostly inside you. Tell your story. Look at what other writers have done. But most importantly, WRITE. Be authentic. Edit mistakes later. Just write.
Have you experienced a time when your jokes fell flat?
There was a time I said that in a Mexican soap opera cockroaches would probably use the surname “Mendes”… (waits for reaction. No reaction)… I use the poor reception as material for more humour. Or I make a face, whichever works.
What project are you working on now?
Apart from “Because You Said So”- an improve comedy show – in October, I’m also going to be part of a comedy special at the end of September. In terms of writing, we are in the process of writing and producing some more seasons of One In A Million for Mnet. I also recently acted as the lead in a fun short film called “A Guide To Dining Out In Nairobi”, which is coming out soon, and I’m working on a couple of movie scripts and some stage productions. Joyce is also working on her own series (go Joyce!), plus a couple of film projects.