The Kenyans using podcasts to tell children African women's stories

From left: Creators of the KaBrazen children's podcast Aleya Kassam, Anne Moraa and Laura Ekumbo.

Photo credit: Photo | Pool

What you need to know:

  • Three women are developing a first of its kind multilingual African children's podcast to share stories of extraordinary African women.
  • They launched the KaBrazen Podcast, which has five episodes in English and now plan to create Kiswahili and French translations.
  • They've interviewed Field Marshall Muthoni and Zarina Patel several times, and put together Brazen, an all-female show.

Three Kenyan women are developing a first of its kind multilingual African children's podcast to share stories of extraordinary African women.

Multi-generational storytellers Laura Ekumbo, Anne Moraa and Aleya Kassam are reimagining heroes for children to draw lessons as they enjoy the rich history.

Last February, they launched the KaBrazen Podcast, which has five episodes in English. They now plan to create Kiswahili and French translations, as well as produce its second season.

Ms Kassam who boasts of over 10 years’ experience in the craft, opens up on the podcast’s origins, some challenges and future plans ahead of their first Kiswahili pilot and the launch of KaBrazen Consortium on September 29.

When did the three of you meet?

We first met in 2017. At that point, we all wanted to understand the lives of African women who came before us. We hoped to share with the world, the complexities of their lives, not in the way that had been presented before us. Prior to that, we had been fans of each other's work since we are all writers and performers. We then went through a nine-month journey of excavating these stories. We interviewed Field Marshall Muthoni and Zarina Patel several times, and put together Brazen, an all-female show. We then researched, created, wrote and directed. In 2018, we staged it as part of the Too Early for Birds theatre, during its the fourth edition. The show was a great success and we loved working with each other. We then thought to pursue story telling professionally and that is how the LAM (Laura, Aleya and Moraa – their names) sisterhood began.

What is the origin of KaBrazen podcast?

While writing Brazen, we felt that our little ones should also enjoy these stories. As aunts, we did not want our nephews and nieces to be talking about Coco Melon and Frozenand instead think about say Mekatalili wa Menza and Zarina Patel, and draw inspiration from them. We thus, thought of mythologizing and transforming these complex ideas for them into a format they could grasp. We staged the first story telling show, commissioned by Book Bunk (organisation committed to upgrading and revitalising Kenya’s library services) at Kaloleni Social Hall in 2019. But when Covid-19 came, we could not work on live stage anymore. It was a natural pivot to podcasting. In 2021, we won the Aga Khan University Media Innovation Centre residency, and we were able to create KaBrazen.

How different is producing a podcast compared to being live on stage?

With podcasting, you have to think about how to open up someone's imagination in their ears. Again, they are listening to this on their own without any live energy exchange. You have to create a soundscape beyond just your voice, to draw the person in, using audio as opposed to other tools of stage. Over the last year, we have developed a process where we go from research and develop an angle. Afterwards, we create a draft to see if and how the story works for audio. The nice thing is, because it is not live, you can constantly tweak and improve it but then on the downside, you are constantly holding on to it because you want to keep improving it.

Who are the women that feature in the podcast?

Some are women who inspire us, individually. We also ask our friends and the online community to share their ideas, then we plan out the season. We are always looking at the geographical spread to ensure we move beyond Kenya and East Africa. We consider the kinds of things that would make someone brazen; it's not just political or freedom fighting. We acknowledge that there is brazenness in every day activity too. Zarina’s story, for instance, is about holding power accountable, Mekatilili’s story is about determination, the quiet Nandi girl who brought down Luanda Magere, is about being observant and learning, while Angola’s Queen Njinga is a story about being crafty and charismatic.

Why a Kiswahili version?

When telling stories in English, sometimes the cultural expressions are lost. With Kiswahili, it is a whole different experience and it opens up the space to children who feel more comfortable in the language than in English.

What are some of the challenges you have encountered?

The one big challenge right now is that the three of us are artists (not business people). We are, however, trying to do it professionally to avail more work. To manage any start-up is always difficult; the tension is that we are being called to run a business while at the same time creating the work itself. So, the real headache is figuring out how we can make the business profitable, while being full-time artists and creating premium content.  It is also a very expensive and time-consuming podcast because it is heavily scripted and produced to match international standards. However, we do not have a challenge in making the work because our skills marry effortlessly. Laura is a performance expert, Moraa is the best editor Kenya has, and I have done a lot of work in children's storytelling.

What next for the LAM sisterhood and KaBrazen?

So far, the feedback from KaBrazen has been phenomenal with a high interest in demand. Children and adults, alike, are enjoying the podcast. That is why we have formed and plan to officially launch the Kabrazen Consortium, following grant funding from Heva Ignite Culture. We are, however, looking at sustainability; how to make the work profitable so that we are not reliant on donors. We will bring together three companies, who are experts at what they do, instead of trying to do everything. As the LAM sisterhood, we will continue making the work.  Za Kikwetu Productions is the studio that hosts us, while Africa Podfest is in charge of marketing and distribution of the podcast, in a model that could be replicated around the continent.

During the virtual launch of the consortium, we will discuss what it means to have a multilingual children's podcast. We shall look at the ideas around language and release our Kiswahili pilot on Mekatilili as the first translated episode of season one.


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