Faces of Africa – The Puppet Masters – Part 1

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A puppet is an inanimate object animated or manipulated by a puppeteer. It is used in

puppetry, which is a very ancient form of theatre. Puppetry by its nature is a flexible and

inventive medium and many puppet companies work with combinations of puppet forms

and incorporate real objects into their performances. They might, for example, incorporate

performing objects. The XYZ Show is a Kenyan puppet programme based on satirizes political

and social events. It’s produced at the Go down Art Center that was established in

September 2003.

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The founders of Buni Media and XYZ show Godfrey Mwampembwa and Marie Mungai with one of the puppets.

The story of XYZ begins with Godfrey Mwampembwa a cartoonist, popularly known as Gado.

Gado used to work for the Daily Nation, a Kenyan newspaper as a cartoonist since 1992 till

2015 and has worked with many other companies locally and internationally. His cartoons

are all subject from terrorism to aids to corruption.

In 2003 Gado visited a television set of puppets in France, and immediately he knew that a

puppet show could be a success in Kenya. In 2000, he sent Gerald Olewe a sculptor to France

to learn how to make the puppets. But Gerald noticed it would be very hard since the latex

used to make puppets was not available in Kenya. But this did not deter Gado from further

pursuing the idea. He visited various television stations explaining the project but no one

seemed to buy the idea. He managed to put up a team of puppeteers and in 2007 he had at

least something to showcase but it was still not clear to the media people.

Godfrey Mwampembwa, popularly known as Gado, drawing a cartoon for the XYZ show. He is a professional cartoonist.
Godfrey Mwampembwa, popularly known as Gado, drawing a cartoon for the XYZ show. He is a professional cartoonist.

Towards the end of 2007, Gado met Marie Mungai an experienced TV journalist from

France. He explained to her what he was up to and she immediately got what Gado was

talking about.

“Towards the end of 2007 I met Marie who is now my business partner and co-producer.

Marie just got it, of all the people I had gone to, she is the only one who said this can be

done,” recalled Gado.

Edward Khaemba the voice coach. Behind him are two of the XYZ puppets.
Edward Khaemba the voice coach. Behind him are two of the XYZ puppets.

Gado and Marie formed Buni media to provide a platform for XYZ show. The whole of 2008

they sought for donors and sponsors to push their programme forward. Their breakthrough

came in 2009. They got the funds and their first season premiered. At the beginning, XYZ

satirized the political situation in Kenya. This was a hit locally considering the country had

experienced some ugly scenes during the 2007-2008 post-election violence. Kenyans had

gone through a lot of pain due to the political upheaval therefore a satire kind of work like

XYZ was much appreciated. “When you look at XYZ growth, YouTube rated it as one of the

most watched African content online and our key audiences are Kenyans and African abroad

meaning the stories are travelling far,” told Brian. With XYZ pulling the numbers, local

television stations sought for the programme.

Two of the puppeteers demonstrating on how coordination of the puppets works.
Two of the puppeteers demonstrating how coordination of the puppets works.

“We were very straight in terms of how we want to work with broadcast because we would

retain editorial part which means we would control the content,” told Gado. Today, the

show has gone on ahead and incorporated other current social events. “We usually do eight

skits for the show that is social skits, political, adverts, interviews and a song,” told Lily- XYZ

Head writer. The company has employed over eighty employees from cartoonists,

puppeteers, voices artists and puppet makers. This has become a success because of the

freedom of expression in the country, something that is gagged in other African states.

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