In honour of Africa Podcast Day on February 12, we have interviewed African podcasters to ask them about their experiences of being a podcaster on the continent.
Kevin Mwachiro is a writer, journalist, podcaster, and queer activist. In 2017 he launched a story-telling podcast, called Nipe Story, which produces audio versions of short-story fictional stories from the African continent. Nipe’s Story has received recognition as one of Kenya’s notable podcasts.
Kevin’s first book is titled Invisible – Stories from Kenya’s Queer Community. He was part of the editorial team for Boldly Queer – African Perspectives on same-sex sexuality and gender diversity. His first play, Thrashed was published in the anthology Six in the City – Six Short Plays on Nairobi. Kevin’s most recent work is the short story, Number Sita which is published in the anthology, Nairobi Noir. His poetry has been published in the anthology, Walking the Tightrope and the journal, Diversity Gains.
Working in collaboration with the Gay Kenya Trust and the Goethe Institute – Nairobi, Kevin is a co-founder of the Out Film Festival which is the first LGBTQI film festival in East Africa. He currently serves on the boards of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK, an LGBQ coalition), PEMA Kenya (a grassroots LGBQTI organisation), and Amnesty International – Kenya.
How did you get into podcasting and when did you start podcasting?
I got into podcasting in 2017 and I was conducting some journalism and radio production training at one of the universities in Kenya. I have a background in radio, interestingly that year I had toyed around with, starting a podcast and after training this cohort of young journalists on radio and podcasting. During the training session, I had invited some of my friends who were podcasters to talk to the students about podcasting in Kenya and each one of the guests that I had invited said to me, ‘dude, this is your time to start this. So that’s how basically I got into it. With my background in radio, I have always loved spoken-word and long-form radio. For me podcasting and also storytelling, especially in the format of Nipe’s Story has taken, is something that I’ve always loved. I have always loved listening to long-form audio.
How did you transition from radio into podcasting and what are some of the challenges or the positives you found from shifting from radio to podcasting?
I didn’t think there was much of a challenge, it is unfortunate that a lot of the radio stations in Kenya are music-based radio stations and that has not really been my forte. I trained in the UK and I worked with the BBC, so I was already used to working and listening to long-form audio. I love listening to radio documentaries. So for me, this was an easy transition. It is who I am, I didn’t struggle with that. I was very deliberate in the type of podcast that I wanted to do, so for me, it was kind of seamless because I already had the tools of the trade and the passion.
Do you think audio-based platforms such as podcasting, Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse will overtake radio or is there still room for radio?
I’ll be honest. I get troubled when I get asked that, I don’t see why there has to be one or the other. I think we need to start by saying, here is a new platform that we can use in transmitting information, storytelling, providing entertainment and providing education. Here is a new format, it doesn’t have to be competitive, it’s just a way of us asking ourselves, how do these two complement one another? I think podcasting is a great tool for offering content to radio stations and radio stations provide a great platform for content generated by podcasts, especially here in Africa. Radio is still king on the continent and we keep on forgetting that radio is still king. When we have challenges of electricity, when people have challenges in accessing data, we still have huge rural populations or non-urban populations that rely on radio. Radio is still king and I strongly believe that podcasting and radio are perfect bedfellows.
What are the types of stories that you focus on in your podcast?
Nipe’s Story is a storytelling podcast that has short stories from writers from across the continent, fictional stories. I love African fiction. I love hearing stories, I am also a writer and for me, it is an opportunity to hear what my contemporaries are doing. I am also honoured and I love the fact that Nipe’s Story is a podcast/platform for queer fiction that is from the continent. I love listening to queer realities put across through fiction that come from different parts of the continent and for me, that is what Nipe’s story is about. A platform for African stories and also a deliberate move to make sure that they are queer African fictional stories on the podcast.
Why specifically focus on fictional stories and do you think that the continent needs more fictional stories?
We haven’t even scratched the surface, with podcasting and digital media. This is the time that we need to celebrate our Africanness, we need to tell our stories, we need to generate all sorts of stories. I’ve seen even within the writing landscape, there are writers who are writing African fantasy and for some people, this is a whole new element to African fiction. We are scratching the surface and there are so many stories out there that still have to be told, there’s a growth within the literary space on the continent, there are a lot more festivals, writing calls for fictional stories and there are a lot more literary platforms.
We are seeing all sorts of writers come out of the woodwork. I look forward to the day that I hear a fictional story from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, or Mali – fringe countries on the continent that we are not hearing from. I want Nipe’s Story to be able to tell a fictional story from anywhere around Africa. I think as a continent and as a generation, we are at a point where we are claiming our stories and sometimes it’s all part of the creativity and with the writers, I’ve noticed some are reclaiming how they’re choosing to be personified, how they want their continent to be seen.
The feedback that I have been getting is that we don’t hear these kinds of stories, this is the side of Africa that we don’t quite hear about. I’m of that generation where I don’t believe everything has to have a timestamp. There isn’t enough, there aren’t enough stories about the continent – there needs to be more storytelling, more podcasts that are telling the African story in however shape or form they come in.
You said that we haven’t even scratched the surface for fictional stories. So what about queer stories because we rarely hear or read stories about the queer community that intersects with fiction?
As a queer man, a gay man, our love is important. I remember when I was coming out, I started reading a lot of E. Lynn Harris because I had never heard of him. I had never read anything about black queer love and I was over the moon. I was over the moon, as an avid reader because I could connect with it. I had just come back from the UK and as I was settling in, Monica Arac de Nyeko, won the Caine Prize for African Writing for her story, Jambula Tree, which was a story about two lesbian lovers set in Uganda and made me realise that my story is part of this continent. My story is important and I can dream about love. I can dream about having a partner in a way that is comfortable to me, in a way that is comfortable to my context.
Do you think podcasting is an extension of storytelling or is it another form of storytelling?
I think it is another form of storytelling, it becomes storytelling by the type of stories you tell on your podcast. I think here in Africa, we need to use podcasting to document our African stories.
How do you keep listeners engaged? How do you carry them through the story? How do you ensure that this person’s gonna stay with me throughout this whole episode?
I look at Nipe’s Story as a library of stories where sometimes you’d have a five-minute story, a 15-minute story, a 20-minute story and a 40-minute story. My responsibility is to make sure when I’m looking for stories, they are riveting stories, there’s good storytelling and good writing. The challenge is pairing the story with the right voice. You know, so sometimes I must admit it takes longer for Nipe’s Story to get the right tone. But people haven’t complained about the length of the story. I’d like to believe they are good stories and the way to engage with your listener is to create good content and capture the imagination of the listener and for me, that is what I endeavour to do. Every time I put together an episode of Nipe’s Story.
Lastly, why do you think it is important for Africans to have their own podcasts and tell stories from their own perspective?
I believe it is our time to shout out about our Africanness, it is our time to reclaim how we have been made to believe about ourselves, our realities and our history. For many years, for my generation, we were taught about our African history, not from African historians, but non-African historians. It is important for us to claim our stories, tell our stories, using our words, the way that reflects our realities. We have the tools now, we have the internet. We have podcasting and so many ways of telling African stories. I think by doing this, we’re showing the value of our stories, not just to us as Africans, but also to the world.
My primary audience in the work that I do is Africa. think the continent needs to do a lot more in talking to one another. I get excited when I hear about the community of podcasters in Zambia, Nigeria, and literally right across the continent. A day like Africa Podcast Day is important for us to hear one another, to showcase the work that is coming out of the continent because this is the time for us and as we move forward to talk about, show off, and be proud of who we are as Africans, this is our time moving forward. We are here now. This is the time for us to do that because the work that we do through podcasting through storytelling, the work of telling the African story, is important because that is how we will change this continent.
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