Abu, Gathoni and Ngartia had been working on a TV show around Kenyan history with Owaahh. At around the same time Abu and Ngartia were plotting a comeback to the stage after a stint in advertising. The TV show was rejected by a majority of Kenyan TV stations, most claiming that Kenyans were not ready for that kind of content. Yet, when we test run some of the material on stage during a Kwani Open Mic, the same Kenyans seemed enthusiastic. So we decided to combine the stage and history ambitions and tell these stories.
Honestly, we are suckers for intriguing stories and Kenyan history is choke full of them! Most of the stories we come across are more ridiculous than any fiction we can come up with. We are also very interested in patterns and every show has revealed that we keep repeating mistakes as a nation since we don’t learn from the past. This is our little contribution to making sure this generation of Kenyans doesn’t perish from ignorance.
It feels like a lifetime sometimes, but we’ve basically known each other for over 7 years. Story Zetu came about in high school and was from a love of literature that our teacher, Mr Mawira , provided space for it to grow and thus become what this is.
It was just a beautiful accident. We were all writers to begin with but we’ve always been interested in multiple things.
Story Zetu evolved from a blog, to a space we could feature other artists, to making videos, and then producing events and on and on.
It helps that we always look for ways to have Story Zetu members in our individual projects. And in some cases, if one of us cannot come in directly to help, they can always refer someone they trust, and in this way, the network gets larger and larger.
From the get go, the idea was exciting but downright crazy because of how much was riding on it.
We had however successfully produced a couple of other shows and so while we were aware of the risk, the idea was gold! We definitely had to pursue it.
That’s definitely The Juja Connection. Initially, it was like 6 different stories, but the script breakdown needed only one, so we had to figure out a connection that tied all those stories into one long narrative. A lot of drugs and prayers may or may not have been involved.
We have been blessed (cursed?) to have master punsters as part of the writing team. A lot of both the puns and pop culture references are created during writing, but some are reworked or added by the cast and director during rehearsals. Ngartia and Mercy were the lead punsters for the Mboya Edition.
We are yet to pin down an ideal duration for research since every show has been different from the other. In some instances, we already have material, in others, we have to start from scratch. Some are broad, others are very specific and detail oriented.
The sources are very reliable. We have a research department headed by the utterly brilliant Idil Ahmed who wouldn’t let us work with half baked research material.
We definitely hoped something like this would happen but those hopes weren’t that high when we started out. What was important was to always have enough to just do something by ourselves, whether a sponsor came in or not. There’s some power in knowing you can achieve that regardless.
HEVA coming in was very timely because at the time, we hadn’t staged a thing for a year or so, and we really wanted to come back with a bang! Getting the boost really enabled us to keep our dreams lofty and be more daring.
HEVA’s investment has turned ideas we had about the future into solid plans. Now we can contract people with a bit more ease and lay out our production calendar without stressing over selling our own utensils to fund the production.
Seeing Field Marshal Muthoni attend the Brazen Edition in July 2018 was a huge surprise! It was so profound to have read about her, put up a show about her, and see her in the flesh. An actual freedom fighter came to our show and loved it and it gave us such life that she watched her story told while she lives. Zarina Patel was at the same show as Field Marshal Mūthoni. That was epic! It is also always a surprise when the children and grandchildren of the people we speak about show up at the shows. From the Mboya family, to Senior Chief Warūhiū’s, to Argwings Kodhek’s.
The Mboya Edition cemented how invested the audience is in the stories we keep telling. It’s not just the huge numbers that show up but the overwhelming feedback and genuine gratitude from random people we meet, that say they watch our shows.
Their faith in us and the fact that some people change things in their lives because of what we’ve done is really profound.
What’s in store is more storytelling (obviously!) and experimenting with even more diverse forms and media of doing so.
Loved this story? Be sure to check it out and more on the January edition of the Afromaisha magazine.
Featured Image Courtesy: StillsByMarcus