The future of content is exploring subcultures that have storytelling as the primary element regardless of the medium. In the golden age of the podcast boom, storytelling has found a home (with so little barrier to entry) that makes for sobering listening.
I’ve long been a huge fan of storytelling and a student of podcasts so I wanted to find out why narrative podcasts, and in particular Kenyan Podcasts, are so popular.
Podcasts are designed to take up time and true crime buffs enjoy the most out of storytelling due to the immersive narratives that are ever gripping and dramatic.
The Emotional Appeal of Listening
The popularity of successful podcasts has been attributed to the use of very traditional storytelling techniques. Yet, audiences are demanding content that moves beyond traditional storytelling imploring that the story must be told from beginning to end.
However, the intimacy of on-demand audio storytelling values mystery within a story thus creating room for long episodic formats and pauses which can be serialized – leaving the listener with the desire to come back for more.
Now a thrilling sense of possibility exists among the kinds of people who once might have tried magazine freelancing or blogging: that someone with talent can make a living, or even become rich, by podcasting – How Podcasts Became a Seductive—and Sometimes Slippery—Mode of Storytelling, (New Yorker)
While it is easier to open up in front of a microphone than a camera, the absence of images may inspire confidence from the listener who is constantly building their own images of the story in their mind. Therefore creating their own production.
♥ Solo Commentary – probably the easiest to do or start with. It’s presented as a monologue. The host talks about a range of topics either news-related, opinions, tutorials or any other information.
Examples: Adulting with Miss Monah, 254 Kaa Rada.
♥ Interview – introduces a second voice and viewpoint on a subject. It involves a podcast interviewer and interviewee (sometimes a regular) who is asked a bunch of questions that they are an expert in.
Examples: Otherwise, Amani Maranga Podcast.
♥ Conversational/Co-hosted – allows for a more conversational approach due to the number of hosts present and is particularly interesting if the chemistry between the hosts is strong.
Examples: What She Said, The BenchWarmerz.
♥ The panel (guest interview or discussion) – has one host who directs the questioning to multiple speakers that come in regularly to collectively contribute to a topic. Listeners tune in more often if the co-hosts have strong personalities and a well-established rapport.
Examples: The Spread, Omenerds Podcast, Moringa School.
♥ Repurposed – features repackaged audio content from other outlets such as recordings from live events, or even a handful of episodes consolidated into one episode.
♥ Hybrid – a non-defined format that presents with a combination of different elements of these forms to create their show. For example, starting as a solo commentary and ending with an interview.
Examples: The Nairobi Review.
♥ Video – a vidcast is an increasingly popular podcast format that not only has audio but also video. It allows for more engagement between the host and the target audience.
Examples: Chini ya Maji, 24 Bit.
♥ Narrative storytelling – has one host who serves as the listeners’ guide through an audio story comprised of interviews and sound. A majority is non-fiction as evidenced by the much popular Serial, The American Life and Strangers. Fiction storytelling is less common but fiction writers are slowly working their way in.
Techniques used in Non-Fiction Narrative Podcasts
Narrative Podcasts are either fiction storytelling or non-fiction storytelling.
Non-fiction narrative podcasts are essentially real-life untold stories which are unique, expressive and authentic, and are host to the most well-received storytelling heavyweights such as Serial, Ear Hustle, The American Life, Strangers or The Moth.
Narrative Podcasting involves either nicely paced third-person narratives, serialized narrative journalism that makes for compulsive listening, podcasts that have fictional stories, podcasts that have the main character telling his/her story and a storyteller who guides the story, or a theme focused weekly podcast that ties several stories into one narrative.
Credibility and storytelling vocal quality are the keys to narration.
Mastering this format takes full-scale productions and industry expertise. It consumes a lot of time editing the best content lifted out from interviews, sound and music to convert into a meaningful creative story. This is probably why it tends to be dominated by journalists who are great at getting in-depth and insightful information from their subjects.
This type of podcast targets both podcasters and audiences who follow journalism, like mystery, are eager to learn new things, or those who have a curious mind – while addressing listener drop-off.
Kenyan Narrative Podcasts
Podcast Host: Evelyn Wambui
The Human Interest Podcast is a classic case of first-person narratives with the main character telling his/her story and a storyteller who guides the story. It is a longform audio documentary that features well-scripted stories, narrations from ordinary people and sometimes a mixture of both.
The execution of these true-life stories such as weight loss, battle with cancer, ghosting in friendships, safe spaces or the passion of life will leave you in awe, sadness and definitely more enlightened.
Evelyn’s voice is completely without inflection throughout the episode and her technique can be considered as collaborative storytelling. She introduces the episode’s topic and lets her guest introduce themselves then dives into the episode by narrating a brief history of the topic. The guest then goes into a narration of their own story with Evelyn choosing the right moments to add to the story. She then ends with her closing remarks.
She offers similar storytelling techniques on her other podcast Safaricom Newsroom Podcast, powered by Safaricom.
Podcast Host: Natalie Sifuma
In its first season, Paukwa stories’ focus is on the 47 counties that make up Kenya. It delivers great storytelling, key findings, and good research.
Paukwa Stories is a celebration of positive narratives around Kenya.
It’s a short, 4-minute recording aimed at the curious mind with a short attention span and is narrated by different storytellers in each episode.
Podcast Host: Kevin Mwachiro
Nipe Story, a Finger Piano Production, is a podcast that lends a voice to written short stories. It is a curation of different stories, different characters, all with unique narration styles offered by different performers or the writers themselves or occasionally read by the host.
The host, journalist Kevin Mwachiro, uses his voice to present and contextualize the story at the beginning of each episode and ends the compelling narrative with tellings of who the writers are and what they do.
Podcast Host: Kevin Mwachiro
This podcast offers real-life inspirational and heartfelt stories from Cancer survivors.
Kevin, a cancer survivor himself, introduces his guests with a little backstory and then plays clips of his interactions with them.
The podcast is so full of life with so much positivity radiating from the stories shared with sincerity. I’d recommend it to anyone battling cancer, anyone who has a loved one battling cancer or anyone seeking information.
Podcast Host: Adelle Onyango
Legally Clueless is a thematic and well-produced podcast that has managed to tie several stories into one narrative. It started out as a solo commentary podcast that has slowly transitioned into a full-on narrative podcast.
The guests would either share their story directly or contribute to a story by answering the different questions posed to them by radio personality Adelle Onyango.
Adelle allows the audio clips of the characters to speak for themselves, yet summarizes their actions to help bring the character’s motivations closer to the audience. It works.
The grief stories series particularly pull some emotional punches.
Podcast Host: Agostine Ndung’u
These are reported pieces of happenings around and the world and first-person narratives that create a personal and intimate atmosphere throughout the episode.
Agostine Ndung’u is such an excellent storyteller that, in my imagination, has to make a lot of his stuff up on the fly. His personal accounts are delivered with interest and occasional humour.
Sometimes he inserts audio clips from live events or interviews to guide the story. You will find the stories interesting and educational.
Podcast Host: Selly Thiam
It is an 8 part series podcast produced by None On Record that explores stories about thriving and surviving as queer in Africa and the diaspora.
It makes for a relaxing listening experience by providing a safe space for participants and listeners.
Selly also gives room to her different guests to share their story and truth with topics ranging from queerness n Africa, the prejudice of pride celebrations, the online impact of a gay wedding to the dangers of dating app Grindr.
Podcast Host: Stella Njogo
This is a series of theme focused narrations done in a conversational tone which is inspirational and personal. It embraces self-growth and thriving in life through the teachings and stories shared.
Selly is a musing narrator, you’d mistake her podcast for solo commentary.