On 5-7 September 2022, the Workshop “Orality and Cinema in Kenya: the Practice of Film DJs and Audiences” took place in Naivasha, Kenya, as part of the Thyssen-project of CEDITRAA member Matthias Krings, with Claudia Böhme (Uni Trier) and Solomon Waliaula (JGU) as co-conveners and support from the Center for Intercultural Studies (JGU).
Film Deejaying is a cultural phenomenon where a local artist mediates a foreign film for local audiences by suppressing the audio element of the film as initially produced and superimposing his/her own voice and interpretation on the motion picture. It has been a thriving cinema practice in East Africa since the late 1980s but became part of the mainstream popular culture in Kenya in 2006 with the emergence of DJ Afro who became the face of cinema translation as an art form and entertainment. The DJ acts as a mediator between the foreign film and the audience and uses orality to achieve this aim and works with a multi-medial variety of resources at his/her disposal. The multi-mediality of film narration derives from two distinct sources; namely the oral tradition and the contemporary electronic based media. The product of the new art form emerges out of the aesthetic manipulation of these different media. The DJ’s role as a mediator is therefore complex since the film narrator brings together a variety of media from oral tradition and electronic media and renders this bricolage to the audience. On the other hand, the audience has a certain aesthetic expectation from the performer: they know what and how the story should be told but they cannot perform this role on their own. Therefore, they place the responsibility of performance upon the narrator. In addition, advances in technology have made it possible for cinema narration to expand its reach beyond live audiences in cinema halls to publics that watch recorded versions on television as well as uploaded versions on Youtube. Furthermore, popular culture has borrowed elements from cinema narration art and performance in the production of new forms of comedy and social commentary on social media. As a result, while the traditional practice of film translation still exists, new variations of the genre have emerged that affirm the productive and adaptive nature of film narration as an art form.
The broad aim of this workshop was to investigate the resilience of the film DJ as an oral artist and the variations and adaptations that emerge from the film narrator’s artistic practice. This was a unique workshop because it brought together academics, artists, and audiences in the field of cinema narration in East Africa who reflected on the practice of film commentating over the past two decades. The four themes of this workshop were as follows: firstly, theorization of cinema narration in the context of orality and media; secondly, the social contexts and cultural productions of cinema narration and commentary in East, Central, and West Africa; thirdly, audience engagement with live and recorded performances of film narration; and lastly, conversations on cinema narration between academics, artists, and audiences.