African publishing innovation showcase: Positively African
In 2020 the IPA Africa Publishing Innovation Fund (APIF) gave a $20,000 grant to Nairobi-based Positively African, which works on social impact projects in the literary and performance space with writers, storytellers, actors, publishers, illustrators, graphic designers, sound designers and musicians across the continent.
The donation, part of the $200,000 total distributed by the APIF in 2020 on behalf of the donor Dubai Cares, was earmarked for the Story Jukebox, a scheme to distribute audio stories Africa-wide via digital platforms and partnerships with universities and centres for the visually impaired.
Positively African founder Maimouna Jallow said the funding had enabled her to create Tales of the Accidental City, an original audio adaptation of four stories by Kenyan writers from a series called Humans of Nairobi.
Stories of urban Africa
The 90-minute, three-part drama tells the story of four Nairobi residents who are thrown together in an anger management class imposed on them by the courts following various misdemeanours. Diana, Jacinda, Louis Njoroge, and Sarah Obama must explain what landed them there, and with the help of their quirky counsellor, try to heal their wounds. The play is a portrait of Nairobi, but also tells the story of many African cities challenged by population growth, economic inequality and social injustice.
The characters recount situations they’ve had to confront, from rude, corrupt policemen, to a kidnapped child in a busy market, and a best friend crushed between two matatu buses in a city that waits for no one. But the director insists that it is also a play about hope and the possibility for change. ‘In the therapy session the counsellor teaches them techniques to de-stress. By the end of the first listening session we had with real audiences, they were all breathing more deeply... I want to demystify therapy because, believe me, most of us need it!’
Gender equality is elemental to the APIF project, and Positively African’s programming has a feminist lens, from project design to implementation and monitoring.
Tales of the Accidental City is a story of one man and four women, who are mothers, daughters, teachers, street hawkers, therapists, and domestic workers who must all navigate patriarchal structures. Their stories were carefully chosen to spotlight women’s stories in order to reach more female listeners. There is a 10% literacy gap between men and women in Kenya, which Positively African seeks to help bridge by ensuring the illiterate can enjoy literature by listening and encouraging a love of stories through access to relevant, local fiction.
The audio drama was launched in October 2020 at the virtual Ake Arts and Book Festival, one of Africa’s biggest literary events, and is now freely available on all major podcast providers. With additional funding from the African Culture Fund, Maimouna and her team have also produced a feature-length experimental film based on the stories, which will be released in cinemas via its distributor Media Pros Africa in 2021 (see trailer). This will be followed by an impact campaign to reach communities and educational institutions.
Getting the message out
Describing the project’s reception, Maimouna said her new Anchor platform had registered over 2,200 unique listeners between November and December 2020, from audiences in Kenya (43%), United States (13%), United Kingdom (12%), South Africa (7%), India (3%), Netherlands (2%) and Nigeria (2%).
She added: ‘We ran a sustained and vibrant social media campaign, posting audio and video trailers; videos of the director and cast; and reviews from the media and our peers in the literary space. Tales of the Accidental City received great media reviews on both international and national outlets, including the BBC World Service, Daily Nation and Business Daily. We vastly increased our social media following on Facebook, with our posts reaching up to 100,000 people, and also re-activated our Instagram and Twitter pages.’
Maimouna said her goal is to contribute to the African narrative landscape through stories by and about people who are often marginalised; to reach communities through high-quality, original and authentic audio content that reflects their lives; and to revive African oral heritage using modern technologies.
Tales of the Accidental City was produced as the proof of concept for a larger project called The Story Jukebox, a content platform for high-quality audio stories. Using a two-pronged approach - a mobile app and physical jukeboxes in communities - the Story Jukebox aims to make African stories accessible to untapped audiences while supporting writers to reach new audiences.
Where to download the podcast Tales of the Accidental City