That Mexican soaps have flooded the prime time slot of the television stations cannot be understated.
But even though they are popular especially among women viewers, every TV executive is looking for that silver bullet that will turn the tide and start another trend in Kenya. What will that be?
Mali is the name, and NTV will be the home of the first Kenyan soap to air three times a week starting October.
The family drama will augur well with Kenyan audiences as the people behind the show, Al Is On Productions modelled it on a story that many would associate with or at least are aware of.
Some of the biggest headline grabbing stories in Kenya have been family dramas played right before news cameras.
Last year, there was the Kirima story, a real life soap opera that Kenyans were obsessed with that involved legacy, wealth and succession.
“There have been many high profile wrangles in Kenya that involved family not just the Kirima saga — like Kijana Wamalwa, Samuel Wanjiru, James Kanyotu, Samuel Gichuru and even Wambui Otieno families — and from the interest they generated, we figured it would be a fantastic theme,” says Alison Ngibuini.
When it comes to family, everybody has a story to tell, and this drama will address many of them like generation gap, succession, wealth, marriage, suspicions and deceit.
Mali revolves around a rich and wealthy family led by its patriarch, Gregory Mali (George Ohawa) who is married to two wives — first wife Mabel (Mary Gacheri) a Ugandan who is a staunch Christian and Usha (Mkamzee Mwatela), a Tanzanian, who is a free spirit and the cause of much of the family drama.
Mabel has two daughters, Nandi (Mumbi Maina) and Lulu (Brenda Wairimu) while Usha has two sons, Richard (Kevin Samwel) and Arthur (Daniel Peters).
The succession wrangles start with the children. While Mabel is the first wife and is in control, she is “disadvantaged” as she has only daughters while Usha has sons who will possibly take over Mali’s estate when he dies.
Their children, however, are not interested in the wrangles and admire each other’s mothers. Arthur loves Mabel while Lulu wishes her mother was as cool as Usha.
But they are not to be ignored. Lulu has a crush on a waiter who works at her father’s hotel while Arthur finds himself drawn to their house help Selena (Carolyne Ngorobi). Nandi, who is currently abroad is said to be pregnant with the dad’s Chief Operating Officer Tony Babu (Tony Mwangi)
Mali, despite having two wives, is also having an affair with one of his employees and this makes for interesting drama to keep you in front of the television everyday.
It has a strong cast, a mixture of experienced actors and budding ones make for a fantastic show.
It will feature some celebrities like Kalekye Mumo, Nick Wang’ondu, Lupita Nyong’o, Redsan and rapper Octopizzo.
Ngibuini says she has been working on the idea of a soap opera for five years now and started working on making it a reality two years ago.
“I pitched the idea to several broadcasters who shut the door on me but when I pitched it to NTV, they loved it on paper and jumped on the idea. It is a game-changer. That I can promise you,” says Ngibuini.
She has been commissioned to produce 326 episodes and says work has already started on the show and she is the first to admit it is not a cheap venture.
Many stations love the Mexican and Philipino soap operas as they are cheap to purchase as opposed to producing local shows.
Although she will not get into details, the show will cost over Sh100 million.
“It is expensive to do such a show and although Sh100 million sounds like a big amount, when you break it down per show, it means we work on a shoe string budget but it is a start and this is the only way to grow Kenyan productions because we are using local actors and crew and that is employment,” says Ngibuini.
Having worked on shows like MTV’s Shuga, which is currently on production for its second season, Ngibuini says that going down the “Mali” route was a challenge and she has had some guidance from people like Mfundi Vundla, the creator and Executive Producer of one of Africa’s biggest daily dramas, Generations.
The South African show, also very popular in Kenya, is the longest running soap opera in South Africa, after popular Egoli, having being on air for over 15 years.
It started as a once a week slot but it was extended to every weekday as its popularity grew, and in the process creating stars like Karabo Moroka, who has been in the show since the start.
“Mfundi has been a big help and he sent us a team from Generations, Isindigo to help us in the scripting and handling a multi-camera production, which we are doing and we have learnt a lot,” she adds.
Ngibuini says she is working with a crew of 120 adding they have done a lot of research and preparation for the show.
“We have seven writers, seven story liners and script editors and we also have lawyers, doctors, businessmen, pastors consulting with us and helping us come up with a script that is believable and free flowing. We are not going easy on this and we are here to set a trend and make sure that the production can be watched beyond the Kenyan borders and very soon, people across East Africa will be feasting their eyes on Mali,” she added.