Africa Podfest co-director Melissa Mbugua envisions the growth of podcasts on the continent as a real opportunity to tell African stories in a new way. Picture: Supplied
Africa Podfest co-director Melissa Mbugua envisions the growth of podcasts on the continent as a real opportunity to tell African stories in a new way. Picture: Supplied

Podfest Africa promotes local podcasts, new projects kick off

By Sam Spiller Time of article published Feb 14, 2021

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AFRICAN storytelling on podcasts was an important part of the agenda at this year’s Africa Podfest.

The African podcast festival, created to promote productions of the audio medium, was held on Friday as part of the African Podcast Day celebrations.

The event took place online and featured round-table discussions, workshops, and lectures on the growth and promotion of podcasts.

The event’s theme was “We are proud to be here!”, which was tied to calls for support of marginalised communities such as people with disabilities, women, and the queer community.

“It is a platform for networking, events, research and collaborative learning all year round,” said festival co-director Melissa Mbugua. “It was created to centre the voices of communities who are defining the present and future Africa, but who are not adequately represented in the media.”

Africa Podfest co-director Melissa Mbugua envisions the growth of podcasts on the continent as a real opportunity to tell African stories in a new way. Picture: Supplied

Podcasts have seen an explosion in popularity across the world during the past decade and many African content producers are rushing to embrace the medium.

“African audiences are increasing as more podcasts come online and awareness of the medium grows,” Mbugua said.

“The podcasting community is innovating already around technology and revenue generation. We see the next few years being exciting from a media business innovation standpoint and it will be driven by pioneers in the African podcasting community.”

In between the scheduled events at the festivals, podcasters from across the continent were given the chance to speak and share their experiences. One of them was South African journalist and podcaster Sisipho Skweyiya, who hosts and produces The Journey in which she interviews local personalities and industry leaders. Skweyiya has been publishing episodes of the show since last year.

“I am currently recording season 2 of the podcast and the challenge is much greater this time,” Skweyiya said.

“I think last year when I started, I was so excited to get things in order and publish episodes. But this time around I want to improve the production quality and branch out beyond South Africa, so the legwork has been quite a struggle.”

Podcaster Sisipho Skweyiya is one of several content producers spearheading the medium across the continent with her show, The Journey. Picture: Supplied

The most recent figures for podcasts in South Africa show the country is still trailing behind other nations. According to a 2019 study conducted by Edison Research, only 22% of South Africans living in metro areas podcasts were listened to podcasts, while only 10% listened to them on a monthly basis.

“I have seen quite surprising numbers in terms of listenership, but I definitely struggled to grow an audience,” Skweyiya said. “But I think that has to do with the fact that I haven’t yet invested time in creating a heavy social presence to market/advertise the podcast.”

One of the festival highlights was the announcement of a new podcasts series called This is Africa, scheduled to be released mid-April.

The new show is the work of the Children’s Radio Foundation (CRF), a South African non-profit organisation that operates across Africa providing audio training to young people, and its Radio Workshop initiative.

Lesedi Mogoatlhe, trainer at Radio Workshop and who hosts the new series, said it had been difficult for podcasts to get a foothold locally.

“The big thing we struggled with was, when we started with the training around 2018, it was so difficult for us to find podcast examples to play within the training, especially ones that related to queer issues,” she said.

“Listening to podcasts is a culture, in a way you need to instil that. People are still listening to the radio. Radio is still the boss. To get people to use their own data and access podcasts is quite a thing to do.”

This is Africa will focus on continental stories and issues with the first episode featuring a discussion on the Jerusalema music video challenge, and an interview with South African actress Xolile Tshabalala.

The announcement also came as Radio Workshop is accepting applications for its African Podcast Workshop, a ten-day programme which aims to offer foundational podcast skills to young people.

“What really works about the project was how we as the CRF took existing training tools for our radio programming and repackaged it to fit the podcast context and the participants quickly grasped the storytelling format and just ran with it,” said Radio Workshop producer Andile Msomi.

“To create rich and powerful stories, and producing podcast episodes that share their experiences on most platforms, and it's relatable content that best represents the African context.”

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