A sofa, two cameras and three microphones. The episode can begin. In an apartment in the city center of the capital Nairobi, at the end of March, Ben Cyco and Wanjiru Njiru are about to shoot what is the fiftieth opus of their podcast, The JoyRide. They are now accompanied by a psychologist. Today’s episode is dedicated to mental health. For an hour, they will simulate couple therapy in front of the camera.
The married couple got into the podcast business a year ago. They made it their main activity, putting their careers as a musician and designer on hold. The recipe immediately worked: each episode, in video and audio, accumulates between 60,000 and 100,000 views.
If the video of the day is about mental health, the other episodes generally talk about romantic relationships, career plans, investments, marriage, masculinity, etc. Favorite themes among young listeners in Nairobi. “It’s a personal space, a free space, and that’s what Kenyans recognize themselves in today”judge Ben Cyco.
In Kenya, The JoyRide is one of the best-known podcasts and a model for the approximately 500 authors of these sound productions. “In Africa, the podcast is no longer a child, it has already existed for a long time”, says Melissa Mbugua, co-director of Africa PodFest, a Nairobi-based company that specializes in podcast research and production. On March 7, the South African creation I Will Not Grow Old Here represented the continent for the first time at the Ambies ceremony, the world podcast mecca.
In search of professionalism
A niche industry for years, the number of Kenyan podcast productions exploded amid the coronavirus pandemic. “It works very well, because podcasts are first of all the necessary alternative to mainstream media and secondly because they appeal to our African tradition of storytelling”continues Melissa Mbugua.
Whether in its form – audio or video – or in substance, by addressing themes that are sometimes taboo in Africa such as the rights of LGBT+ minorities, the podcast has created a space of freedom for young people. Requiring few resources – a computer and a recorder – it is within the reach of students and high school students.
The year 2022 marked a turning point in an African podcasting community in search of professionalization. Music streaming giant Spotify has injected $100,000 into thirteen creators on the continent, the first major global investment in this niche. Four of them are Kenyan. South Africa and Nigeria, two other podcast locomotives in Africa, are also well represented.
For the moment, few are those who manage to live from their show. “We are lucky, we have enough followers for the podcast to become lucrative, assures Wanjiru Njiuru of The JoyRide. Brands come knocking on our door to advertise. » The couple still wants to keep control over the subjects they discuss. “For example, we teamed up a few weeks ago with a menstrual cup company, which we promoted during the episode, but which is only a medium for addressing intimate questions about menstruation”she concludes.
A famous openly queer podcaster
In Kenya, the majority of Kenyan designers are women or queer. These under-represented categories in mainstream media have found a kind of outlet in the podcast. The first great Kenyan success, The Spread, launched in 2017 by Karen Kaz, aims to decolonize the way Africans talk about sexuality and gender identity. The Film Classification Board, a sort of Kenyan Arcom, tried to ban it at the time, calling it “offensive”.
In a country where homosexuality is still criminalized, the President of the Republic William Ruto declared in March that he “It is not possible to authorize marriages between persons of the same sex. It will be done in other countries, but not in Kenya! », Famous podcaster and openly queer Kevin Mwachiro is not one to be intimidated by these statements. “The podcast allows us to be free and transgressive”he rejoices.
Instead, Kevin continues his merry way at the head of Nipe Storyan audio collection of pan-African fiction that he has hosted since 2017. He gives “proudly” a platform for gay and lesbian stories. “Both in form and substance, the podcast has thrown a lot of commonly accepted rules into the trash.assures the former journalist. I find it unfortunate the absence of topics related to sexuality, masculinity and LGBT+ minorities on national radio. »
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Despite the financial support he receives from Spotify Africa, of which he is one of the beneficiaries, Kevin Mwachiro continues to produce his podcast “out of passion” and must continue his jobs as a pen-reader and consultant on the side to fill the fridge every month.
Popular with urban youth
For Adelle Onyango, the transition was quite different. When she left the famous KissFM radio station in 2018, the 34-year-old did not expect to become Kenya’s most famous podcaster. His show Legally Clueless now has 211 episodes and nearly 5 million plays.
His interviews and meetings on topics such as alcoholism, infertility or behavioral problems have made him successful. “Mental health is the biggest taboo in Africa and especially among African men”says the one whose episodes are now broadcast on TraceFM radio.
Not only does Adelle Onyango make a living from her podcast through her new media venture, but Legally Clueless opened up multiple horizons. So much so that she intervenes, via her foundation, in various group therapy and support projects for victims of gender-based violence in the townships of Nairobi. In 2022, she wrote a book on the subject, titled “Our Broken Silence”.
Popular among urban youth, the podcast “still struggling to seduce the business world and attract funds to Kenya”, Judge Melissa Mbugua. If a few incubators exist, their means of production are still limited. On the other hand, the traditional media seem to want to catch up with the bandwagon. So, The Nation And The Standardthe two major Kenyan news groups, have been broadcasting their own on-demand audio shows since 2022.