Shujaaz.fm is a Digital Emmy-winning multimedia project based in Kenya, incorporating radio broadcasts, comic books, and digital content into an overarching narrative targeted toward Kenya’s youth, tackling sometimes serious social issues in a fun and engaging package. DJ Boyie (pictured above) is Shujaaz.fm’s main man, and was kind enough to sit down with Black Ship to talk all about his work on the project.
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Black Ship Books: Shujaaz FM is one of the coolest examples of integrated media I’ve seen — a comic about a radio show that actually has a companion radio show to tie everything together, not to mention the digital aspects of the project. How did the idea to combine these different media under a single banner to tell a single set of stories come about?
DJ Boyie: Thanks! Our absolute priority with Shujaaz was to reach as many people around Kenya as possible. So we had to meet the audience where they already were. Even though we print around 700,000 comics every month & they’re free of charge, there will be some people who don’t get them. So we also tell the stories on radio and again on various social media platforms such as Facebook & You Tube. This ensures that millions of people can be inspired by Shujaaz.
BSB: Sort of branching off from that last question—The broad reach of social media and radio make them obvious choices, but what makes comics a great medium for getting your message out to young people?
DJB: Who doesn’t love a comic?! They’re bright, colourful, easy to read, full of content, you can share them with friends, save them and read them again and again. TV and radio are great – but once they’ve broadcast they’re gone. Comics last forever – and you don’t need electricity to make them work! And as there are issues with literacy in Kenya due to poor educational standards, the images help tell the story without needing to understand all the text.
BSB: The Shujaaz comic is written in Sheng, a dialect popular with young people in Kenya that blends English and Swahili. Do you think the book’s impact would be lessened if it were written in one of those two languages, rather than the more colloquial Sheng?
DJB: Sheng developed because the youth wanted to be able to speak to each other without strict parents and teachers being able to understand. It is the key identifier of youth in Kenya. And in a country where we have many different tribes who speak different languages – sheng unites us as a whole. But we only use Sheng when it reflects true life. So youth speak to each other in sheng in Kenya – so our characters do the same. However if one of the characters is speaking to a teacher or someone in authority – they will speak in Swahili or English – which reflects the reality on the ground.
BSB: A large part of the project, of course, has to do with social issues that affect young Kenyans. How do you and the other creative people at Shujaaz walk the fine line between education and entertainment?
DJB: One of our best measures for whether something is appropriate for Shujaaz is ‘If DJ B wouldn’t say it to his mates, then we drop it!’ Shujaaz can’t be finger wagging – we’d immediately lose our audience. All our content must be useful. It has to offer something to the audience. And Kenyan youth are hungry for ideas and information that will improve their lives. Yes they want to laugh and be entertained – but they know that opportunities are slim and they need to make their own success. This is why Shujaaz is so popular – it is full of stories of young Kenyans who are doing something to make a living – they’re ‘hustlers’! We tell the story of these hustlers on all our platforms and encourage Shujaaz fans to give the ideas a go!
BSB: Shujaaz is obviously distinctly Kenyan in every way, down to the words its characters use. That said, do you think there’s the potential for the same kind of integrated media model to be applied elsewhere, whether with a similar social outlook, or for more simple entertainment purposes?
DJB: Absolutely! We are confident that Shujaaz can work in any country in the world. In fact, we are launching in Tanzania this August. And our pre-testing suggests that the Tanzanian youth are just as hungry for Shujaaz as the youth in Kenya. As long as the content is authentic, the language and the featured hustlers etc are Tanzanian, then the there is no reason why it won’t work. We intend to launch Shujaaz is many other countries in Africa in the future and have already had interest from countries as diverse as Papua New Guinea, Nepal and Madagascar!
BSB: There are already YouTube videos and social media aspects to the Shujaaz project, but are there any plans to make the comic available digitally? What about hardcover or trade paperback compilations of the stories published so far?
DJB: Digital media is our next big priority. We’ve had some bad luck with websites and are determined to find a way to make all of our content available in one, easily accessible place. Currently we upload all our comics at Issuu and make PDFs available on DJ B’s Facebook page. We’d love to make an annual – but there’s a cost to that (and to getting them out to millions of people) so we’ll need to start saving pennies to do that!
BSB: I’ll close with a simpler question—What’s coming up soon for the comic?
DJB: Well, *ahem*, let’s just say DJ B’s love life is about to get interesting!