The Chris Kabwato Column | Black stories and the art of the podcast

Charlamagne Tha God, host of The Breakfast Club, known for his barbed interviews (pic: NY Times)

It has been a week of zeitgeist caused by the introduction of the ZiG and the attendant nightmare of dealing with the prevarications of a regime that is fixated on inflicting pain on its own citizens. Consummate purveyors of unmitigated diabolical sadism, they are.

Being the least qualified person to speak on ZiG-zag matters, I thought I should write something lighter that speaks to a favourite pastime. Since I consume podcasts voraciously, it seems I am on safer ground writing about such.

Barriers come down and many have a voice

Whilst on occasion you come across a social media post that speaks tongue-in-cheek that podcast equipment (microphones and cameras) should not be so readily available to all and sundry, it is better to have choice. One can always ignore the podcasts they feel are not relevant to them. Censorship is out. We need more voices.

The beauty about podcasts is that on several occasions the person or team that disrupts the stuffiness and pomposity of journalists, does not even consider what they are doing as committing an act of journalism.

Shannon Sharpe and the disruption of the conversation sphere

Shannon Sharpe is a legendary former player of the Denver Broncos in America’s National Football League (NFL). Most people globally know him for being the host and proprietor of a podcast called Club Shay Shay and also for being an NBA analyst for ESPN’s First Take.

Before setting up his phenomenally successful podcast, Shannon was a co-host of the Fox Sports show Skip and Shannon: Undisputed. The fallout between Skip Bayless and Shannon was spectacular – the tension had been gathering for months until the latter had to leave. Sometimes your blessing lies in the traumatic loss of the cushy 9-to-5 gig.

Shannon doubled down on his Club Shay Shay podcast whilst also launching his cognac called Le Portier. Feeling sympathy for a brother, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith brought Shannon to First Take. But Shannon’s star was about to rise. His interview with comedian Katt Williams has been viewed over 66 million times and created memes and memorable lines. Katt ‘christened’ the Club Shay Shay podcast as a place of truth and his words have proven to be on the money. The success of Shannon’s podcast has much to do with the production – excellent research into guests’ history, authentic conversation, active listening, and an interesting lineup of guests from Steve Harvey to GloRilla through to Cam Newtown.

Shannon keeps winning and has another podcast called Nightcap where he is in conversation with former NFL player Chad “Ocho” Johnson. It is all informal chat that gives you the feeling of eavesdropping on two close friends speaking on everything from sport to relationship breakups. Because of Ocho – an authentic and hilarious fellow – the talk always takes some comic twists and turns. 

Enter MacG

It is great to see the proliferation of podcasts on the Zimbabwean scene and to see them mixing languages and resonating with their audiences. I am sure one or two will rise above the noise in terms of content and professional execution and begin to set the conversation agenda for the nation.

You can judge me, and it will be fine, but the only podcast I follow in Africa with some consistency is Podcast and Chill which was created in 2018 by South African MacGyver Mukwevho. Popularly known as MacG, he is a house music producer and a former radio personality who was an anchor at YFM and Highveld Stereo. He has the distinction of having been fired at both stations. A real maverick, MacG has grown his podcast subscriber base to 1.3 million whilst leveraging the brand to sell merchandise and launch his own gin. His engaging style, simplicity and genuine interest in people has seen him host a bewildering variety of guests from politicians such as John Steenhuisen, global stars like Black Coffee, government ministers, comedians, celebrities, and his own mother. The episode with Julius Malema garnered 1.3 million views. He is certainly having the last laugh after commercial brands abandoned him in 2021, allegedly for comments he made on one of his shows. Podcast and Chill’s subscribers are called Chillers, and they are an engaged and loyal following – the dream of any media publisher.

On the come-up: Black & Forth podcast is one of multiple Zim podcasts gaining eyeballs

__

The Breakfast Club remains the front porch of the culture

Despite the proliferation of podcasts, the Breakfast Club anchored by DJ Envy, Charlamagne tha God and Jess Hilarious remains the key barometer on current issues in black culture and politics. Just like journalist Zenzele Ndebele’s dogged determination to document and keep alive the stories of ZAPU and ZIPRA, Charlamagne and company ensure that the untold stories of black history and culture are foregrounded. Recently they had academic, novelist and music publisher Alice Randall talking about the erasure of the contribution of black musicians to the genre of country music. Randall, the author of My Black Country, recognised the pioneers of black country music such as Eslie “Lesley” Riddle, DeFord Bailey, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Ray Charles, Charley Pride and Herb Jeffries.

Tumbling podcasts?

I used to enjoy N.O.R.E and DJ EFN’s Drink Champs podcast but I think it has lost its verve or I have simply moved on. What Club Shay Shay is now doing is precisely what Drinks Champs used to. It would bring the legends, go down memory lane and literally give them their flowers. I think N.O.R.E took a knock after the Kanye West interview in October 2022, where he panicked after publishing the podcast and tried to distance himself from Ye’s views on who controls the creative industry. N.O.RE seemed to care more for the reaction of Revolt TV’s sponsors than simply to indicate that Ye’s views were his own. N.O.R.E could also have fact-checked Ye.

I am not sure who watches the Joe Budden TV where main host’s monotone could put an insomniac to sleep…but then different strokes for different folks.

On the come-up

If I were sports journalist Stephen A. Smith with his endless antics and goofiness on ESPN and on his own eponymous podcast, I would be very worried by the new basketball podcast which former NBA player JJ Redick launched three weeks ago in conjunction with LeBron James. Mind the Game is an intellectual dissection of the science of basketball by two of the game’s most brilliant minds. It is a must-watch for anyone who considers themselves a student of the game – from coaches to rookies. Numbers don’t lie, and the four episodes produced have millions of views when aggregating the viewership for the full episodes and the clips.

Whatever you watch on YouTube or elsewhere, I hope it is giving you the kick you need. I have said my bit. Peace.