SCREEN D.J: The Narrative Mixer

Issued By Admin | Article
Wednesday, 06 Mar, 2024

Picture Mugai, a five-year-old little boy full of curiosity at the possibilities of what the world has to offer, with the lingering question of what he wants to be when he grows up still in mind. Uninhibited by life expectations his little imagination embarks on a journey of exploring the answer, maybe he wants to be a doctor? An astronaut? A dog whisperer?  Hmm, maybe spider man with X ray vision superpowers? This and many more options begin to crop up with every new interest he picks up.

Until one Sunday evening, a small minivan comes to his hometown ready to display various films. Everyone rushes and hurdles around eager with anticipation. They look on at the crew setting up the projector and sound system, the air already buzzing with surreal excitement.

Mugai tries to edge his way through the large crowd of adults but is unable, almost giving up; he throws his glance towards a low hanging branch at a nearby tree. Quickly, he fastens his steps and climbs on it, undetected. Just then the projector lights up and the film plays, the crowd cheers in loud applause, only for them to realize it is a Chinese action film with no subtitles.

Feeling a bit restless and unable to comprehend the film, the crowd energy dips. Just then, a tall bald slender man walks with a charismatic swag next to the screen holding a microphone. Immediately with a performative zeal, he begins doing a commentary translation of the film to the much delight of the crowd.

Mugai watches on, his eyes amazed by the magical experience unfolding right in front of him. His attention mainly focused on how seamless the man is doing the voice over narration. In that very moment without a doubt of conviction he decides, he wants to be the best film commentary to exist. Fast-forward 30 years later Mugai grows up to become the country renowned DJ Afro.

Watoto kaeni chini’ is a term that is not so foreign from any Kenyan who grew up watching local screenings at the cinema halls back in the 80s and 90s. This experience is what slowly fostered the film culture that we now come to grow and appreciate. The social gathering to sit down and watch stories is one that emulates the art and format of storytelling from way back during our forefathers times, with the basic set-up of young children gathering around a bonfire and an old folk narrating to them tales.

This intimate setting is what fostered a sense of community from one generation to the next with the intentionality to ensure the message of the story hits home to the exact target audience. The immediate raw interaction between the actual storyteller and the audience is what created the beautiful experience.

Unfortunately, as time passed the evolution of technology and the old setting of storytelling morphed as less and less of our own homegrown stories found its way to the local audience. With these changes came the viewing of foreign films from different cultures. The resultant effect of this switch created a need to fill in the gap of making sure the audience understood as well as be entertained with what they are watching. Thus came the birth of film voice over narrators.

Film voice over narration is a unique art skill art that is tailored to the Kenyan film audience. The ability to be able to understand the film beforehand, then proceed to re-create the entire narration to suit the audience entertainment needs by making it very relatable, is no different from what an actual music DJ does on the decks. The only difference is that with the screen D.J the fun comes with playing with visuals as well. However, the one debate question that comes up is, do screen Djs the likes of Dj Afro, Dj Fishbone and Dj Smith do more harm than good to the Kenyan film industry?

Arguably, to some extent one can say there is harm due to promoting the viewing of foreign films in order to get a platform to practice their craft. This is true, with every movie den you find adults and little children glued to the screen to watch Rambo fighting a terrorist. The entertaining narration of such a scene only further interests their need to only want to watch foreign films and limits their scope to watch local films.

But yet again, the same argument can be pointed out that if it wasn’t for screen Djs the old community setting of people gathering together to enjoy the narrative storytelling skill which the likes of Dj Afro still hold true to their craft would not have existed. Their appreciation to connect with the audience as storytellers is only reminiscing of the good old days.

Through their narrative style of re-imagining a film in a different very relatable context is what one can truthfully, say is the only magic that could and would inspire the next generation of filmmakers whom get engrossed into the world of film.

With organizations such as Docubox, KFCB and the just concluded Kitale film week, the one thing they have in common is to strive to bring back sinema mashinani by screening local films at grassroots level. The warm reception received by the people during such screenings goes to prove there is a hunger and need for the consumption of local film content.

Thus, a challenge is given to local filmmakers to make the initiative and embrace the culture of ensuring the films reach local grassroots levels to an already existing audience. In addition, to collaborate with screen Djs to actual do the narration. The blend of the screen Djs narrating local films will not only further catapult creating a film market that the industry desperately needs but it will also cement the rich homegrown appreciation of our stories using a voice we have come to know and loved.

Written by Kwaira Gitonga