Our Man Around Nairobi today is Yafesi Musoke. Yafesi Musoke is a man of many talents and he is a Screen Writer, Actor, Emcee, Voice Artist, Comedian, Producer, Director and Radio Presenter. He has also been a bass guitarist, a dancer, an acting coach and an experiential learning facilitator. He is also a cast member of the popular improv comedy team, “Because You Said So”. He is married with three children and has a large cat called Qwerty.
Yafesi started acting in high school at St. Mary’s Nairobi. After graduating from Daystar University he went into radio at Hope FM during which time he was twice nominated for the Groove Award Radio Presenter of the year. Yafesi then went into advertising as a senior copywriter, while also writing the popular stage musicals, Village Easter and Village Christmas (2008-2012). After leaving advertising in 2010, he wrote his first television series, the comedy,Briefcase Inc. Yafesi was he was part of the writing team for Kenya’s first-ever musical TV drama, the (Kalasha) award-winning Groove Theory, and also did art direction for the show. Most recently he wrote the comedy drama One In A Million that aired on Maisha Magic East. He is also an emcee and experienced voice artist with several radio ads currently running on air. You may also have seen him in a few TV commercials: KCB Simba Points,KRA iTax, and Airtel Kawtin.
Did you grow up in Nairobi?
I grew up in Nairobi after my family moved here in 1981. We first lived in a building we called “the broken house”. It was a one-bedroomed house, mostly wooden and had fleas in the compound, many fleas. The compound was large though. It was near the dip to Valley Arcade, and there was an inexplicable accident at our fence almost weekly.
We moved to Ngummo in 1983, and it felt very communal. We were ten minutes from everywhere. Everyone knew everyone in the estate, and it was quite diverse. We had American, Ethiopian, West African, Indian, and Sudanese neighbours. Of course, there were a few jambazis as well who would steal bikes and money from the smaller kids, but we knew their names. Kenyatta Market was not as neat as it is now (believe me, it is very neat right now).
Everything seemed to centre around Ngummo. You could take one bus to almost anywhere, or so I thought. Later I realized that Ngummo people were among those labelled “babbies” by other more “streetwise” areas.
What do you love about Nairobi?
The Nairobi energy! I love that you cannot put Nairobi in a box. You will find everything from genge to classical, couture to Toi Market, roadside boiro to Kempinski, freezing on Thursday to heatwave on Friday, street preachers to state-of-the-art digital productions (and Because You Said So). There is very little in terms of art that would not be able to build an audience. I remember many years ago when we were shocked that Boda riders in Kampala had cell phones. We surpassed them quite fast, to the point where thugs can even criticize you for the phone you have. Nairobi transcends limitations and is the starting point for so much.
That makes it one of the best places to find an audience for my style of art. From my radio days – which may return soon, cough, cough – to my writing and comedy, I have heard it said so many times that Kenyans or “Nairobians” are not ready for this or that kind of humour, or show, or presentation. And each time, the naysayers have been proven wrong. I’ve done a lot of creative work that, though sometimes different, has been well-received. It is really humbling to know that one day in some way or form, Nairobi will give you that moment. It will come. And if you’re ready, you’ve put in the work and done the time, you will soar higher than you could ever have imagined. Get consistent now.
What would you change about Nairobi?
Traffic! Okay, seriously, some areas and roads in the city seem to have been designed in a hurry, with not too much foresight, and we have some drivers who seem to have learnt how to drive on a dare or on the internet, so hoot!
Also, attitude change. Own Nairobi. Nairobi is not just a place from which you receive wages (if you’re lucky); it gives back what you give out. If you litter, it is your compound you are damaging. If you drive drunk or carelessly, it is your family you’re endangering. If you side with selfish men and women, it is you they’re robbing. Nairobi is not just yours. It is you. This view affects my work a lot.
You see, it is not enough for me as a content creator or writer to simply write material on the basis that “these things happen” or “that’s life”. Leave that to news reporters. I have to write and perform while prioritizing what would cause an attitude change towards the situation or scenario I am presenting. Whether it is a story about hustling, parenting, relationships, leadership, or overcoming odds; why am I drawing your attention to it? Because if your attitude and perception of something relatable do not change after watching my content, then I will not have served you or Nairobi well. I will not have done my job.
As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
Working in Nairobi is difficult to generalize. You have to create your own work ethic and be consistent. If someone doesn’t understand what you do, they tend not to respect it or what it takes to succeed in that profession. So many times your sacrifices can go unnoticed (i.e. pay up!). But if you are consistent in your delivery, work ethic and standards, you will succeed inevitably, because people know people, and eventually remember people. In my profession, I see so many missed opportunities, even though Nairobi is the most demanding city.
Content is subjected to heavy scrutiny, attention spans are shorter and high quality is always expected. You can feel the push towards Hollywood/International levels, but sometimes we try to fly before we can walk. Incentives and support don’t feel readily available. It is still quite expensive to film in this city, and yet Nairobi’s potential for film tourism is massive.
If you had a tourist friend coming in from outside the country what three things would you say to sell them the idea that Nairobi is worth visiting?
I’d give my friend three unforgettable words related to Nairobi: Matatus, nyama and mpango. By mpango, I mean the whole spectrum of spontaneous get-togethers, laughter, hangouts, friendship, and the epic memories created as you experience Nairobi.