For close to half a century, Kenya’s capital Nairobi, earned long-standing recognition and distinction as the hub of choice for television programming, international and local films productions.
Visiting movie makers and producers keen on scouting for locations, for instance first pitch tent in the city prior to seeking out casting agencies to either recommend actors or actresses or facilitate auditions for support crews.
But after decades, navigating through the maze and minefield of myriad bottlenecks abound in the capital, enterprising directors and actors are lately opting to cast their creative tentacles further.
Others have taken up the gamble to explore and tap into the reservoir abound in the lesser competitive, yet relatively broader Mombasa circuit’s film making scene.
Indeed, as one indulges in casual strolls across the old town streets of urban centres which dot the country’s coastal strip, the multi-faceted Swahili heritage’s potential to spur content for movies is indisputable.
For decades, the port city was renowned for its premium script quality Swahili productions which would be aired exclusively on then sole KBC Swahili TV broadcaster programmes menu.
The introduction of the Multi Choice Maisha Magic East channel 158 has raised stakes in TV programming and turned the service into DStv’s digital content flagship platform for its growing East Africa market.
This 24-hour general entertainment channel’s core focus, which entails assorted entertainment and lifestyle content, aims to specifically appeal to the needs, tastes and preferences of the middle-class Kenyan audiences.
Notably, local production houses are opting for tailor-made scripts that relate to local viewership – a factor which has partially fueled the popularity of home-grown film and TV content.
This on-going development, taking shape gradually is bearing fruit and also serves as a boon in Swahili programme’s exponential growth.
Consequently, over the last three years, Mombasa based film production houses have been enticing more established directors’ and actors to not only spice up their movies but also diversify their content.
Since 2015, celebrated actor Raymond Ofula, ranked among Kenya’s most prominent faces local movie on shows such as Makutano Junction and the riveting South African Jacob’s Cross series – reportedly began shuttling between Nairobi and Mombasa.
Numerous other leading film personalities have been spotted traversing vicinity of the Nyali beach stretch.
These include actresses Janet Kirina (Benta) and Nice Githinji, actor Ken Ambani (Tausi, Wingu La Moto), producer Betty Kathungu-Furet alongside film &TV director Simiyu Barasa (Toto Millionaire, Lies that Bind, Arosto).
According to Betty, the Coastal scene lure became inevitable upon realization there exists an untapped niche for Swahili productions.
“I grew up watching and listening to popular 1980s Swahili productions like Mzee Mombasa show aired on KBC TV. Most actors and actresses from the region are naturals in delivery and fluency,” remarks Betty.
These memories stuck for years in her mind since back then. “When I sought to work on a project different from my previous Nairobi-inspired English productions, I easily picked on Swahili, it is always rich in expression and refreshing as a language,” she notes.
One of Betty’s flagship productions Mazagazaga series airs on local TV, whose success and popularity she credits to roping on board Mombasa-based actors and actresses.
“As a producer, the decision to produce a Swahili film entails engaging characters who blend into the script with ease – and language helps a lot along the way,” adds Betty.
For Mombasa-based film maker Clifford Okumu, whose debut 2008 production titled Kibini Masali did not see light of day owing to huge overheads – coastal films script- writing has vastly also improved.
The Maisha Magic Swahili channel’s focus to showcase purely East African Swahili content may in the long term swing the stakes in favour of Mombasa’s fast evolving film making scene.