Love and lunacy on late-night radio
June 29, 2008
By Phares Mutembei
It is approaching 10pm and Milcah Njeri Kamau is busy tucking her two children into bed. Although they should be asleep, the children are not tired, yet, and are openly protesting. On any other day, Njeri would not be eager to be rid of her children. But this is Sunday, and her favourite late-night radio show, Ithaa Ria kwibanga (meaning ‘a time to get organised’ in Kikuyu), is about to be aired on Kameme FM. Equally eager is John Kamau, her husband of over 10 years. And so Njeri puts her children to bed and, in spite of their protests, she and her man settle down for recreation. The couple says they cannot remember the last time they missed the show.
For various reasons, many Kenyans are tuning to late-night radio shows, especially those that focus on family issues such as marriage, divorce, children, and other relationship-based issues. One of the reasons for the programmes’ popularity, it seems, is their level of human interest, more so the fact that they are sometimes quite provocative.
Consider, for example, one caller’s absurd problem: "Sometimes back, my wife and I had nothing to complain about... But that is now in the past and, lately, she is complaining that I am ‘no good’, and even thinks that my lack of interest is a sign of infidelity."
Here is the word of advice this caller received from the radio helper: "Perhaps it would be wise to retrace your steps and discover when the rain started beating you. Take it easy at work and at home. Eat right and, soon, you will be the stallion that you once were!"
A Nairobi resident, Virginia Ngare Muiyuro is already hooked. "I am an enthusiastic fan of Hutia Mundu (‘touch someone’), a late Sunday show by Inooro FM, which broadcasts in Kikuyu. The programme’s ardent fans say this show is brazen in terms of both language and content.
"I would not miss the show for anything," says Virginia. "My husband and I never miss it; it has helped our marriage in many ways." The show, she says, offers useful tips on how a marriage can be made successful. "It has guided me on how a wife should cook and take care of her man and children — even how to take care of the ‘smallest of details’ at home and how to keep the flames of marriage burning. It has taught me how to hold the attention of my husband, and that is good."
Virginia says that the show’s hosts, Pastor Kuria and Wanjiku, address many pertinent marital issues. "This is helping our relationship to grow stronger. It is a family show that discusses everything you would expect it to."
Because of the explicit nature of the programme’s content, however, she cautions that it is wise to keep children away while it is being aired. Ahead of the presentation, the first thing the presenters of Hutia Mundu do is to sound a warning to parents to ensure that their children are a safe distance away.
Virginia, a mother of two, says there is nothing immoral about discussing bedroom and other family issues on radio.
Learning from others
"When I hear what other people are undergoing, I learn from it and I am better off," she says. She believes the show would not have had any impact on their lives if it were censored. "It would be pointless to keep such topics as sex from radio."
She and her husband listen to the show because it is "adding substance" to their marriage. "But the show is not solely for the married. Single men and women participate too. During the show, which usually lasts for longer than an hour, there is a call-in slot where listeners present their relationship problems to the presenters. For example, one recent caller narrated how he could not find himself the perfect wife he desired. He asked: "How would I know the right one for me?"
Once they have the questions, the hosts offer solutions and suggestions, and the callers usually say they are happier. For instance, in response to this caller’s dilemma, the host said: "There are many places to look for a wife and one place you are sure to ‘hook’ a good one is the church. At our church, for instance, we have a special evening service for single women and men and you should make a point of coming: you won’t be disappointed!"
Secular shows? Not for us!
Judith Gacheri and her husband Jesse Maina love late night radio programmes — specifically those hosted by the clergy.
"We steer clear of the radio shows that are run by ‘outright’ secular presenters," says Jesse. Some non-religious presenters, he feels, are "not qualified" to offer solutions on marriage or matters pertaining to love and romance. "Many late night shows on some of our FM stations are stage-managed," he claims. The presenters, he believes, imaginatively "cook" relationship problems and then invite callers to participate in addressing the topic as if it was raised by genuine callers. "The end result is a confusing show with all manner of participants," says Jesses, who says he has little patience for this calibre of shows.
On her part, Gacheri feels the late-night shows have provided her with valuable information on how to make her family life more successful. She enthuses: "Pastor Kuria of Inooro FM on Sunday evenings does not hold back any information when discussing love matters. And he need not do that, because he says things we all want to know about." The clergyman, she says, is a marriage and family therapist who has touched many couple’s lives — "and ours is a good example."
Kamau Thuo confesses that he is addicted to late-night shows. "I tune in to so many of these shows, looking for one that is hosting a debate suited to my situation, and I am seldom disappointed. Among his favourites are Hutia Mundu and Ithaa ria Kwibanga on Inooro and Kameme respectively, and the late shows on Kiss FM, Easy FM and Citizen Radio. "In the morning, I tune in to Classic FM." Thuo admits to having had several broken romantic relationships.
Calls for censorship
One caller laments that the shows are a source of family conflicts. "As you would expect, some of these shows turn into radio wars between men and women callers. The men pour vitriol, accusing women for failing marriages and relationships," says Ochieng’. In response, women lash out at the men, accusing them of tyranny. He, however, says that, although sometimes caustic, the exchanges between the sexes often make for very entertaining listening.
In Kamau’s experience, the salacious discussions on extramarital affairs "and a bit of sexism" are the elements that make the listening worthwhile. His girlfriend, Nancy Wangui, shares these sentiments. "As much as the shows help us, there is a lot of entertainment as well," she observes. Some callers, she says, make juicy confessions, although some of these admission are "disgusting". Luckily, the obscene material is "not to be found in the vernacular FM radio stations."
Judith and her husband stress that measures should be put in place to ensure that the listening public’s sense of morality is not insulted. "As much as radio is helping us shape marriages and love relationships, it does not mean all is well," she says. "A few shows are adding no value to family life." These, she says, encourage unfaithfulness and disrespect in relationships.
Consider Wangui’s experience as a listener: "I once listened to a caller who confessed to having three girlfriends. He was at a loss about which of the three to propose to, because, he said, he loved all of them." She carries on: "In the hot debate that followed, some callers suggested that he should marry the most beautiful. Others advised him to marry the one who knew how to ‘love’ most. Another’s suggestion was to marry all of them, because African customs allow polygamy anyway." Disgusted, Wangui asks: "Now, what kind of advice is that — on national radio? If you ask me," Wangui offers, "all that was hogwash."
Virginia will continue listening to Hutia Mundu because, she says, it has touched and added substance to her marriage. "I am also a better mother as a result of the wise counsel I receive from the presenters," she says. "I may not necessarily attend the presenter’s church, but that is no reason for me to avoid his programme.
Conflict of interest
Some listeners lament that some of the shows are commercially motivated. For instance, as Virginia has observed, "Some of the marriage therapists that host them invite callers to visit them in their offices for more personalised consultation. But, there, you are expected to pay for the services."
While, overall, many listeners like the shows, some are not so amused. Twenty-eight-year-old Joseph Okwanyo is one such consumer. "I listen to them but my motivation is completely different. For me, it is purely for entertainment." Some of the presenters in the shows, he says, have their own marital or relationship problems. He asks: "Why would a presenter who broke up with a partner in the morning make his way to a studio in the evening and start advising people on love?"
Overall, he says, the shows make for an exciting pastime. "They make my evenings interesting, and I go to sleep with a smile."
28 giugno 2008
Kenya, impazza la radio consulente matrimoniale
Mentre in Kenya prosegue la discussione sul ruolo delle radio vernacolari nel fomentare lo scontro inter-etnico, ho trovato molto gustoso questo pezzo di Phares Mutembei su The Standard. Questa volta le radio vernacolari kenyote sono protagoniste in positivo: il pezzo descrive l'incredibile successo degli show radiofonici serali in cui gli spettatori chiedono consigli di natura matrimoniale, domestica e sessuale. I consultori via radio sembrano essere la grande moda del momento.