Gerald Langiri
November 16 / 2011

I was never much a fan of Kenyan acting or programs, but in recent times, I have found myself actually timing some of the local programs being showcased by our stations. Granted, the ones that I watch are probably the ones that everybody is watching, (Changing Times, Briefcase Inc, Mali, etc,). However, in no way does this mean that only the programs in which English is the primary language used, appeal to me. If anything, I have added these onto a list of other favorites of mine, some of which adapt Kiswahili as the main lingo.

When I was in class seven, there used to be a silly show that came on NTV called The Brothers Garcia at night. I liked it, but not enough to watch it every single week. On one of these occasions when I was in danger of scratching my eyes out due to sheer boredom, I switched channels to KBC and ended up being thoroughly entertained by Je, Huu ni Uungwana? From that point on, I decided to watch that KBC show if ever other channels bored me. Admittedly, the days when I actually held true to this were rare; but whenever I did I was never disappointed.

The first Kenyan show which actually had me anticipating each episode arrived on the scene shortly after. Thus began the pre and post Better Days television time line for me.

Anyone who has paid attention knows that Better Days was the first ever Kenyan series to truly showcase the lives of the rich, teenagers, poor, and other raced people of Kenya, with English being the primary tongue used. The acting was not up to par with the American series we were used to, neither was the flow of the plots; but it was nevertheless refreshing and entertaining to watch. When it was abruptly cancelled, I felt a hollow in my TV heart that did not exist before. I was once again forced to watch Spanish soaps to fill up my days. How sad life was now rendered. Nevertheless, it gave a boost to my opinions on Kenyan acting, which had been rather dismal up to that point.

Citizen TV is undoubtedly the station that took massive steps to promote local acting. In my first year of high school, local TV was making a comeback. Audiences were raving about Makutano Junction, Papa Shirandula, mother in law and most importantly Tahidi High. With a heavy heart, I listened to the stories about how great these programs were since our TV could not catch Citizen, but one day at a friends place, I watched what other people were praising so fervently. Tahidi High, to be specific, it was great. Funny and upbeat characters, the acting was pretty good; I was impressed. Although I tend to feel they are slowly loosing the plot.

When second form rolled around, I became more exposed to Kenyan actors when a show called Changes was picked up by DSTVs Mnet. One thing I praised about it was the slightly more adult plot lines, the fact that it was more of a drama than a comedy, and the smooth flow of the plot lines. On this show, I witnessed the acting abilities of musicians such as Nameless, Wyre; and popular presenter Fareed Khimani. I became more familiar with Nini Wacera. Most importantly, I was hooked to the show. I rarely opted to watch anything else whenever Changes was on, and for me, that signified yet another plus for local acting.

In recent times, there has been a bigger growth in acting in Kenya, a fact that I whole heartedly laud. There is a variety of local shows today for the viewer to choose from, everyday on every channel. Examples include Changing Times, Mheshimiwa, and Briefcase Inc on KTN; Mali, Higher Learning, Wash and Set, and Guy Center on NTV; Rosa, Vitimbi, Je Huu ni Uungwana on KBC; and Tahidi High, Papa Shirandula, Machachari, and Tabasamu on Citizen.

The keen viewer will tell you that as the time goes on, each actor on each show grows more and more in their ability. A program like Machachari has talented child actors who properly showcase the charm, innocence, and comedy that a kid is expected to. Changing Times has actors and actresses who have over time honed their skills in giving comedic as well as dramatic performances, and as such, truly express the woes young adults go through in college. Mali, or as it is best known, Kenyas first soap opera, is also growing in the ranks rapidly and I am really watching that space closely to see whether it will live up to its expectations. As with all other shows, the acting was shaky to begin with, but as it went on, the performances improved and the plots were developed smoothly. Moreover, it has lived up to its soap status by incorporating the never changing, familiar sets that soaps are known to have, as well as the facial expressions and dramatic music when it is needed. A program that should also be brought to attention is Briefcase Inc. This show is a classic comedy. It has no laughing audience, instead lying more along the lines of the Bernie Mac Show. The dead pan expressions of the actors when a line is said can leave you in stitches. Moreover, the story of two men struggling to start up their business is something most people can relate to.

Television acting in Kenya is not only restricted to series, but movies too. There have been great movies out there which are Kenyan-made and Kenyan- acted. I remember the first movie that literally had me glued to the screen was A Dangerous Affair. It impressed me greatly. Another one was MTVs Shuga. Though this film was racier and had more adult content than what we were used to seeing from Kenyan actors, the acting was good, and the issues spoken about were realistic. By the end of the film, I had more knowledge about the evils of sexual promiscuity and drinking. I was also aware of the appearance of actors and actresses that I knew such as Valerie Kimani.I am eagerly waiting for the release of Shuga 2.

Variety shows, reality shows, and lifestylesx shows sum up the growth in the television industry, though expounding on this subject would be best done at another time. Nevertheless, the appearances of actors or actresses such as Wahu, Ian Mugoya, and Size 8 in these shows either as hosts or guests, helps in further promoting their careers and the acting industry as a whole.

You know what they say, there is no such promotion as self promotion, and so it is our duties as Kenyans to promote our actors and shows as much as possible. This will also give them the motivation they need to improve and be the best they can be. Countries such as Nigeria, South Korea, the Phillipines, and Latin American nations grew their acting industries in this way. The more interest we have in our shows, the more interest the international market will portray. When this happens, we will have to think up a catchy name for our entertainment industry. Korea has the Hallayu Wave, Nigeria Nollywood, America has Hollywood, and Kenya?Kenyan wood or is it riverwood? I read the article Should the name riverwood change? and I think it really does not matter so long as the industry can deliver. We have come from far, you can name them; Tahamaki, Tushauriane,mke nyumbani to where we are now. We are going places people. We also do have programmes that I believe need a lot of improving and should really stop wasting air waves!The list is endless, so help me out here, what are some of your favorite and bad programs that have graced our local TV screens?

Suggestions and comments are welcome! Till the next informative piece, Kwaherini!

Written by Nadia Darwesh
Email: nadz.darwesh@gmail.com

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Other pictures courtesy of google search

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