Monday, October 3, 2011

Women are from Venus and Men do not Watch Television

Many Kenyans, I have come to note, share my frustrations with our sometimes errant media. Here is Steve Biko Khatayi exercising his freedom to express...

The rather absurd title for this post is not original. It is a blatant rip-off of Dr. Gray’s famous 1992 book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. The main argument advanced by Dr. Gray was that men and women had different communication styles and that these differences resulted in communication break-down between the sexes. Dr. Gray asserted that improved relationships between the sexes would come about when these ‘innate’ differences were acknowledged. The book, while very influential, has had its fare share of critics. Critics accused the author of engaging in reductionism and of needlessly simplifying sexual differences. At some level, one wonders if the management of most Kenyan television stations swallowed Dr. Gray’s book and misapplied its tenets to their choice of the programs.

An evaluation of the programmes on offer on the country’s major television stations, Citizen TV, KTN and NTV, leads to one inescapable conclusion. That seemingly only Kenyan women habitually watch television and that men have no interest in television. The worst culprit in this matter is Citizen. The station, from sunrise to sunset, almost exclusively caters only for the female gender. Waruru Wachira and other senior Citizen executives seem to have come to the earth-shattering conclusion that Kenyan men do not watch television!

For almost the entire day and late into the night, viewers of the station with a purported vision for us are treated to a standard fare of one dimensional, lachrymose-inducing soap operas of the Philipino, Mexican and Brazilian variety. In between this fare, one is regaled with a daily dose of boring Nigerian movies whose main focus is witchcraft, romance and marriage. No prizes for guessing which gender finds itself glued to these movies from Naijaland. Honestly I ask myself, how can any so called fair-minded person consent to the following arrangement on almost a daily basis. A Philipino soap opera at around 6pm, a Latin American soap opera at around 8 pm followed promptly after the 9 o’clock news by another soap opera! The dessert to all this mushy spread arrives at around 11 pm and is none other than one of the latest Nollywood productions whose storyline is again geared towards women. Little wonder that in many Kenyan households today the missus holds the TV remote firmly in her perfumed and well manicured hands. The only time Kenyan men can prise the remote from her grasp happens to be at 9pm during the prime news. However even in this regard, Citizen TV seems to have thrown us a curve ball with their bizarre decision to append the bore fest that is Slimpossible to the only watchable thing on TV! Again, honestly whose idea was it to air such a dreary reality show that is geared exclusively to Women during the news? Which guy honestly cares about the battle of 5 strangers against the flab? Should we empathize with these women even as they aim to make that cool one million shillings? What is the raison d’ etre of this show and more importantly why bore countless men in the country with this vapid stuff during the 9 o’clock news?

One can only imagine the impact of this situation in many Kenyan households where a single television set is the norm. How will Kenyan couples communicate at the end of the day when the missus is firmly concentrating on the plight of Theresa until 11 pm when she turns her attention to the plight of Val Vicker, Mercy Johnson or Ini Edo? Communication is one of the pillars of marriage, you know.

Those with a healthy memory may remember what happened in Kenya during the 2006, FIFA World Cup in Germany. Back then KTN and KBC won the rights to televise the tournament. Nation Television (NTV) came up with an interesting gimmick, the ‘women’s world cup’. The executives at NTV sought to appeal to women with the idea that since they had no interest in the world cup, the station would provide them with a ‘women’s world cup’ a cocktail of soap operas and related shows. The gesture by NTV, other than being just business-savvy, was a noble gesture that recognized the television needs of the other gender. Alas! In a bizarre twist of fate the honchos at Citizen TV have decided to impose on Kenyans their version of the ‘women’s world cup’. Worse for the men is the fact that unlike the real World Cup which ends in a month the fare at Citizen Television has been going strong for over one year!

It does not take a rocket scientist to know what men would prefer to watch on television. Men would not mind football from any league in the world once in a while. They would not mind Rugby, Wrestling, Boxing, Basketball, and Formula One among other sports. Men also want to watch television shows with a great deal of suspense and action such as 24, Prison Break and Break Out Kings. All we ask is that the same effort that is made scouring the globe for the latest Latin American soap opera is made to secure the rights to televise a football league, the NBA or an action-packed television series!

Indeed it seems rather odd that Citizen Television trumpets ad nauseam the fact that it has been fair to local producers, actors and actresses by televising local programs. The question is why such justice for local artists should be trumpeted while injustice against an entire gender persists on a daily basis.

By some bizarre logic it is almost like the executives at Citizen are hell-bent on not televising any football. Any knowledgeable football fan will tell you that some of the best games in the Spanish and Italian league are televised from around 10pm Kenyan time onwards on weekends. That the folks at Citizen see fit to televise Afrodizzia, a soporific show about African Music that could otherwise be televised any other time other than on Saturday nights tells you all you need to know about where the sympathies of the station’s decision-makers lie.

Do Kenyan men even exist according to Citizen television? More importantly do they even matter? Are their TV needs even important? While the folks at Citizen television mull over these questions, many men I know have already lost patience. The wonderful and affordable packages on offer from Dstv, Zuku, and Smart TV just to mention a few have never had more appeal. An adequate provision of sports, action packed series and movies are the norm among these cable and satellite providers. My advice to anyone who can afford it is to invest in the package that suits them and bid bye bye to the morass that passes for entertainment in most of the local television channels. Contrary to what the honchos at Citizen TV seem to believe, Kenyan men also want to watch television. It turns out that Martians just like Venusians watch television! Over to you, Mr.Wachira Waruru.

By Steve Biko Khatayi

Monday, August 22, 2011

Friendly Kenyans

Today I digress again to ask myself a couple of important questions. Are Kenyans really the friendly, welcoming faces that tourists report about after their visits or are we just a masquerading angry mob? Two incidents in one matatu set me questioning the image we project to those who come a-holidaying on our shores.
I had just settled into my sit in the Nissan- which as we all know are not built for comfort- when in came a raving Kenyan to squeeze into the space next to me. He was livid and was going on and on about how the matatu operators had their hands around his jugular and would not let go until he slumped down dead. “Forty bob?…hawa watu wanatuua bwana!” I was just getting accustomed to the eerie smell in the vehicle as I tried to find an angle that would reduce the chances of my shirt getting ripped by the nails and mabati jutting out of the seat. Determined to grab my full attention, the man looked me in the face and repeated his plaint at higher decibels. I mumbled something in agreement with him as I came to terms with the discomfort I would have to endure on the bumpy sections of the road from town to Kangemi. I wasn’t in the mood for playing activist but he had a point- we are unaccustomed to paying anything more than thirty shillings at that time of day. But he wasn’t finished, after lamenting few more times about the astronomical fare, his attentions turned to the ultimate culprit- the Government. “Nakwambia hii serikali itatumaliza!”
He did not bother to go into details about exactly how Kibaki and Co. were pulling the strings of this driver and conductor, causing them to declare obscene fares, but on he pressed until the time the vehicle was put into motion. At that point he lapsed into silence, gasping slightly from the intensity of his monologue. But before he could catch his breath, a tiny incident that would degenerate into a street fight ensued.
In his urgency to leave the terminus, our driver encountered a slow-moving Nissan X-Trail that was almost grinding to a halt in the middle of the road despite the way being clear ahead of it. Incensed, the driver pounded on the horn- but the vehicle did not increase its speed. However, the next lane suddenly cleared, allowing the matatu driver to overtake the object of his ire. But he was hell-bent on giving the driver of the red-plated 4x4 a piece of his mind. So he instead drew level with the sleek Nissan and smashed his fist into its body while hurling a string of insults at its driver and passenger. I hope the mother of the child behind me had her hands firmly pressed against the boy’s ears.
Now, the occupants of the private vehicle both appeared to be young Muslims- decked out as they were in their long robes and sandals. This means they were meant to be participating in the Ramadan fast, which includes abstinence from evil and all fleshly indulgences. But they did not let religion get in the way of their retaliation against the blatant act of defiance committed on their car. They pulled the X-Trail to a halt and hopped out, faces projecting pure malice.
The passenger reached the driver (who had foolishly stopped the matatu) first and began manhandling him through his open window. Having already surrendered to his fury, the matatu driver freed himself from the young man’s grasp and threw open his door to confront his assailants. All the while, unprintable adjectives were flying between the irate trio, complete with their accompanying gestures. Somehow, the scene failed to escalate beyond shirt-tugging and name-calling; perhaps both parties finally realized that they had more to lose than to gain- and that they were blocking two lanes of traffic in a busy part of town. At any rate, they all re-boarded their vehicles and drove off, stopping to exchange a few more expletives at the junction before heading in opposite directions. My fellow passengers seemed united in the opinion that it was yet another show of might by the rich against the poor, despite the matatu driver’s role in the mayhem. “…ni hawa millionaires,” quipped my neighbor in disgust.
It may seem that I am reading too much into just two incidents, but this is a scene I have seen over and over, only in different places, with different faces. Are we really that flammable? Are our economic woes pushing us to the brink of sanity? Are we justified in seeing the failing hands of our leadership behind every single misfortune we suffer? Lastly, are we really still the land of ‘Hakuna matata’?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Money matters

Today I take time off of castigating media houses and their products to reveal the silent torture I’ve been enduring in the hands of our local banks. I’ve decided to finally speak out about this systematic molestation because it has cost me real revenue and plenty of time- which is money, so really we’re talking obscene amounts of mullah (sic). The footwork I’ve done in trips to various banks could have easily taken me to Bondo (city) – and back. I kid you not, if I had weight to lose, I would’ve taken the Slimpossible crown.

It all started one day when I decided that I needed to send and receive money online instead of incurring the burdensome cost of Western Union or of wiring money overseas bank to bank. “Self”, I told myself, “register for Paypal.” A bulb lit up in my head and I got on the Internet and tried to register my debit card for the service.  “Your card has been denied by your bank…” was the unsavory reply. Puzzled, I went to make enquiries at their Westlands branch since, according to the Paypal site, one should be able to register any card as long as it is a Visa card. The guy at the inquiries desk looked at me like I was speaking Martian and gave me the customer care number to seek further assistance. Maybe I’m expecting too much but the person sitting under the ‘Enquiries’ sign should know as much about what the bank does or does not offer as the voice that would answer a call to customer care. Anywho, dial the numbers I did- both Airtel and Safcom. Pick the phone they did not, no matter how frequently and angrily I hit ‘redial’. And I thought Safcom’s 100 was bad. Mercifully, I was led to an acquaintance who worked for the bank and he informed me that I had two options. One, try their credit card, which you needed to have an income comparable to an MP’s to acquire, or two, try another bank.  Being perpetually a hair’s breath away from poverty, I took door number two and went back to Westlands to open an account with one of my first bank’s rivals. I met a guy opening accounts for passers-by at the door of the banking hall, so I sat down and asked him if their debit cards could transact online.  In a rather uncomfortably fawning way he assured me they did; all I had to was give him my ID and photo (which he took right there).  I went home rubbing my hands, safe in the knowledge that in two weeks I would be sorted. To cut a long story short, I got the card more than a month later which, you guessed it, was useless for online payments. After a couple of deep breaths, I collected my shattered expectations and moved to the next option. Though this next bank has amassed the largest customer base in the country literally overnight, I hadn’t associated it with Internet-based services. Nevertheless, someone swore to me that his card from this bank was all that and a bag of chips. I changed my mind about trying this bank after seeing the static queue at the accounts-opening desk and it was in that very queue that a former classmate convinced me to check out yet another bank.  Since it was virtually next door, I decided to do so immediately. Opening the account was done and dusted before I could say ‘Paypal’ and six days later, an SMS informed me that my card was ready for collection. That was when my debit card demons resurfaced. On the day I picked up the card, I was solemnly promised that within two hours my card would be enabled for online transactions. Two days, and numerous fruitless customer-care calls later, I was- and still am- no better than when I began this Paypal odyssey two months ago. According to a reliable inside source, the bank enables the card when you request it and then disables it towards the end of the day because of the ‘risk’. What, in the name of all that’s good, is the point of making me fill a form in which I essentially acknowledge the risk of transacting online, if at the end of the day, the bank still decides it knows better and blocks the card?     

Still on money matters, but on a different tangent, you know how we’re always whining about pro footballers who get paid silly money just to kick a ball and roll around on mattress-soft turf, well I found a needle in that particular haystack. Balotelli, eat your heart out.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

For interviews that go on and on and on…

Have you ever watched an interview of your favourite celebrity and wished it wouldn’t end? Well my friend, I’ve got just the remedy for your pain. Take a healthy spoonful of E-Diary, K24’s entertainment programme once every week and you should be fine. In fact you will probably slip into a deep slumber and wake up feeling revitalized.  What I am on about, in case it’s not yet clear, is how guests on this show seem to be interrogated for days, leaving us wondering what hidden information the presenter is seeking to extract from them.  Maybe it’s a new torture technique, I don’t know.
Now, Remy, I have no beef with you, don’t get me wrong. I think you are intelligent and charming. But jeez, I don’t give a wit what Kenzo is going to have for supper or how conveniently close his barber is from his house. To be fair, maybe that knowledge will help some fainting fan get a photo-op but I’m sure most will agree that that is overkill. I stumbled upon that particular interview while channel surfing some time back (I don’t know about you, but I stopped reading the TV guide from the newspapers a few years ago). Believe it or not, my nails had grown a centimeter by the time they were running the credits. The interview started in a poorly lit cave (or at least that’s what it looked like) with the musician fielding questions about his craft. At that point I think his career consisted solely of the song in which he renounces his bachelorhood to his potential mother-in-law and asks her not to get in the way. With this in mind, I expected the exchange to consume less than three minutes. But lo and behold, the dialogue wouldn’t end. My impatience drove me to reach for the remote, and I flipped through the stations, found nothing interesting, went and made a cup of tea, washed clothes, brought the cows back in, climbed Mt. Kenya… When I came back to my sofa and turned K24 back on, I found that they had only been warming up. They were now showing us how they followed the budding musician home to give us a peek into his typical day. Again, if this was Susan Owiyo- somebody who has travelled the world and produced several albums- maybe the length of the interview would’ve been justified. But for a novice in the music industry?
   A few days ago they brought DNG in for questioning and I was happy to note a couple of improvements. First, the set was less hostile- rather than the previous dungeon with a single light-bulb, the subject was put in a well lit area. Next and more crucially, we were not taken out of the studio. Sadly, however, the interview still took ages- my brother downloaded an entire season of Top Gear in the process. Another problem came to my attention during this episode. It appeared to me that Remy, the hostess, was trying to counsel DNG. She kept telling him what he had experienced and how it had affected his life- “…I know you were going through a period of change in your life…” instead of letting him tell it to us. Talkative as DNG is (he’s a professional MC), I think I can count the words he managed to squeeze in on my fingers.
I could also talk about how plain and static the graphics of E-Diary are and how the cameramen always seem to find the most dubious and uninteresting angles to shoot from but I’m afraid this rant has gone on for far too long.

Monday, August 1, 2011

TPF fabric stretched too far, too thin?

Tusker All Stars. I don't know about you but this title sets the grey matter underneath my cranium alight with images of grim faced, red eyed, bestubbled men in their forties surrounded by crates of brown bottles. Maybe this is a bit extreme, but think about it, it does sound like the name of a drinking competition. But anyway, for the unschooled, it is the latest instalment of the yearly reality TV show sponsored by EABL (East African Breweries) that purports to unearth the brightest musical talent in the East Africa region.
This errant offspring of Tusker Project Fame thumbs its nose at the go-to-the-grassroots-to-do-auditions routine and instead rounds up the previous winners (and almost-winners) and seeks (I suppose) to find the fairest of them all. I must admit at this point that I am as much in the dark about the programme's objective as an Al Shabaab look-out chewing twigs of khat in Mogadishu.
Oh yes, back to the previous winners- curious how the winner (and almosts) of the original copy of the programme are conspicuously absent. Not enough star material to be salvaged? Search me, but it does bring me to the crux of my rant. I am essentially questioning the legitimacy of TPF in all its shapes and forms as a means of discovering and nurturing the latent musical talent in this region. Do TPF's unseen string-pullers really care about growing those hitherto unheard voices into real globe-conquering (or at least continental)artists?
I am well aware that there are no free lunches in today's world and that the chief reason behind this whole circus is to promote EABL and its various products. But wouldn't it be more to their credit if world class entertainers were actually spawned by their 'project' as opposed to a clutch of half-baked, overhyped 'stars' whose musical renown has spread no further than their front porches? I am careful to say 'musical' because many of them have indeed gained fame- as radio presenters, TV show hosts, reporters, actors etc. Forgive me for sounding a bit blonde but I thought the fame was to come from record sales and gigs, not telling us how clogged Museum Hill round-about is at rush hour.
Before you could say 'Project Fame' the show had swallowed Uganda and Tanzania. And before I could memorize the name of that edition's winner, a panel had docked at Juba and started auditions. I must say at this juncture that TPF's contribution to the EAC (East African Community for those who live in caves) is by no means insignificant. But my point is, apart from the growth in viewership, has there been an upward trajectory in the fortunes (musical- not just economic) of the winners of subsequent TPF editions from the first to the present? How is this for a trend; Valerie Kimani, winner of the first (Kenya only) TPF hopped to South Africa and came back with an album put together by Gallo Records. Judging from the airplay and publicity it got, I don't think she could've afforded a meal at the Sankara Hotel from its proceeds. She also had the good fortune of starring in Eric Wainaina's acclaimed musical drama Mo Faya (which clearly landed in her in more fire off-stage). Apparently she was the lucky one. The rest of the winners-rien. I keep hearing they've released albums, but all I've seen is Tanzanian weeping-boy-turned-model Hemedi's video to his single 'Ninachotaka'- and he wasn't even a winner! Ugandan songbird Esther Nabaasta who broke much-vaunted Kenyan David's heart on her way to bagging the Ksh. 5million cash prize for the second TPF seems to have moved to Mars (or Pluto for that matter). In an effort to find out what became of Rwandan winner Alpha I did a frantic Google search and landed on his MySpace page. It informed me that since his 2009 triumph, Alpha has released just 3 singles and a video. There was literally nothing under 'Shows & Events'. I don't know what David, the last TPF winner, is up to but if the fortunes of his predecessors are anything to go by, he has scant reason to be optimistic.

It can be argued that the show's sponsors and organizers have done their part- having blinded some obscure shower singers with the limelight and given the pick of the litter more money than they can stuff into their shower caps. And a number of these former TPF contestants now have well-paying jobs, majority of whom arrived at the auditions with only enough fare to take them back home. I agree, and faced with the leviathan of unemployment, we can't be too picky regarding swords.
Then there is our fickleness as 'fans'. How many of us render these budding artists our support after they have won (or been evicted from) TPF? Do we clamour for their songs to be played on radio? Do we attend their album launches? And how about this- do we buy (not burn) their music?
I don't pretend to know the answer to this apparent stuntedness in the musical growth of TPF winners but are success stories of the caliber of Ruben Studdard and Fantasia too lofty for East Africa?

Monday, July 25, 2011

This week's winners

Credit must be given where it is due. Hats off to the Business Agenda team at NTV for piecing together a beautiful show on the EAC (East African Community) and where it is headed from a business perspective. I think the panel was brilliantly selected both from Kampala and Nairobi, and the two hosts- Wallace Kantai and his Ugandan counterpart were almost reading my mind in asking the questions that mattered. The duo knew their stuff and exhibited no signs of being cowed by the CEOs and government bigwigs who made up the in-studio audience.
Graphics swivelled and slid very smoothly in colours gentle on the eye. Breaks and switches between the two cities' transmissions were timed to perfection.
The sheer length of the programme allowed us to soak up plenty of information- I could go on and on, gushing over the pros of this show. Please keep it coming, NTV guys.

Assuming I'd put my hat back on, I would take it off again to salute K24's Capital Talk. Though a good show already (largely thanks to Jeff Koinange's charisma), this Monday's episode was made all the more special by his 9 year old guest. The little angel though battling with cancer, had the most radiant, irrepressible smile. No one could blame the veteran journalist for going speechless, jaw dangling, eyes saucer-like for at least half of the interview. Neither was I surprised by the tears welling up in my sister's eyes (not mine, I swear!) at the sheer determination gleaming from the sweet creature's face, knowing she was slated for a chemo session on the morrow.
That said, I must register my disappointment with the guy who does the graphics. The guys on the cameras have clearly improved- we no longer suffer from the atrocious angles- why not the graphics? Come on guys, give us something more fluid with captivating colours, I know you have it in you. It is a shame to see a show with such brilliant content hamstrung by pale, sticky images.

Hopefully, we will be able to register more positives this coming week. Ciao!