16 November 2012

Tanzania: Radio Drama Still Has Its Space


WITH the advanced technology being used in television these days it might come as a surprise to hear that there is still room for radio drama.

The performing artist, Deo Njelekela, says he stands as proof of this for having made a living over the last 19 years. He got his first taste of this entertaining medium, as an actor in a soap opera called "Twende na Wakati" (Going with the trends in English), which was being broadcasted by the former Radio Tanzania Dar es Salaam (RTD). Since then he has participated with a number of other productions as an actor, playwright or producer.

These play differed only in their specific topic but all looked at issues related to local life. Njelekela told the 'Daily News' yesterday he can vouch that people do follow radio drama, as he has witnessed on a number of occasions, when he was part of a team that went into the regions to handle monitory of those broadcasted productions.

"After Twende na Wakati with RTD, I joined-up with a group called the Lighters and did a series called Mnazi Mmoja. This was to prepare Tanzanians to enter multiparty politics. Since then I've been involved in a number of radio drama. Currently I'm working on something with Regalia Media.

We are preparing something to help educate Small and Medium Entrepreneurs (SME)," he explained. As further proof Njelekela also pointed other private media groups who have got interested in radio drama. One of these is Radio Free Africa, for who the Lighters group had made the drama series called "Wahapahapa".

This was possible through funds provided by Media for Development International. He agrees that RTD, who are now called Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC), has been the main provider of these radio dramas but private radios are becoming more involved everyday. After talking with him the 'Daily News' went to find out what the Project Manager of Twende na Wakati, Martha Swai, had to say.

She was sad that the sessions, which they started broadcasting in 1993, had to end 2009. The project was being run jointly by funds received from the government and the United Nations Populations Fund (UNPF). They also got technical assistance from an USA non-governmental organisation called Population, Communication International.

"The UNPF were giving assistance through financial donations to support the sessions in the way of paying the artistes, writers and half of the air-time. At the time there was no TBC and we were called Radio Tanzania Dar es Salaam (RTD), who were the ones, who paid the other half of the air-time," Swai, who was also the producer, explained.

At the beginning, she explained, they were aiming at educating members of the public on the issue of population. This meant focusing on family planning, reproductive health for both adults and adolescence. This focus changed later, when HIV/AIDS became a pressing national issue. The actual characters in the soap opera that were produced were based on three aspects of people in society. That is positive, negative and those characters in between.

The idea behind this is for the first group to be seen as role models for people within the society to take direction from. The negative group would depict what was bad and should not be copied. Those in the middle represented those within society, who do not know where to go. It is thought that by giving these people education there is all possibility that they would choose the positive character to imitate.

The main character, "Mkwaju" was a truck driver. According to Swai RTD were responsible for broadcasting these sessions, for which they also provided the technicians and producers, with actors from outside their establishment that were paid by UNPF. The UNPF also paid the script writers and for monitoring of the sessions. "In these monitory exercises we had what we called 'Field Monitory Visits'.

This entailed going to a particular region where we would hold group discussions with our listeners there to find out if they understood our plays and if not how we could improve them. This was being paid for by UNPF together with certain training for the actors. This came to an end in 2007," she said. It was after this that USAID came to their assistant but finished two years later because the radio could not afford to cover the expenses themselves.

Since then no new plays have been made. Currently they are running recorded drama from their library of other plays, which were recoded before "Twende na Wakati" was made. According to Swai this repeat of old recoded episodes does not please them because they have literally passed their time, as the language used in them shows. Even the actual topics she maintains have drastically expanded.

Whereas before they were mainly concerned with transmission, now they are also looking at treatment and discrimination. Therefore, there is a need for even the story-line to change. Presently, they are looking for funds to do, something similar, with the aim of educating together with entertain their listeners. There is a project that they have intentions of doing together with the University of Dar es Salaam, which is also on these lines, funds being available.

"We get many letters asking us why it is that we have stopped the Twende na Wakati episodes and why it is TBC has no radio plays being broadcasted. When this programme was on, we were even getting listeners from as far as Kenya and Malawi. Life these days is very hard, so when you come home in the evenings, nobody wants to sit through mentally tasking session but something to entertain and relax to. At the same time, this is a good time to learn," she added.

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