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Dancing eyebrows on “mawowowo” advert and other Yafesi Musoke achievements

A screenshot of the Ilara advert.

But how does someone manage to make his eyebrows move in different directions? The way Yafesi Musoke moves them in the advertisement for Ilara milk, to bring home the fact that it is loaded with “mawowowo”, is one of the scenes that have enchanted Kenyan homes in 2018.

Yafesi has been in the creative industry for 20 years now: writing, acting, directing, playing the bass guitar, doing comedies and so many more things.

He had a chat with Media Critic Kenya’s DAVID MWENDA at the Movenpick Hotel in Nairobi’s Westlands. Here is how it went down.

You have been in the industry for 10 years. Or it could be more?

20 years (chuckles).

I used to listen to you when I was a kid. Do you now find it easy to do what you do?

No. I think the day you find it normal it means there is some arrogance that has checked in you. It means you have not learnt anything new.

You have been in the industry for 20 years. What is the biggest lesson you have learnt?

Big one? Is there a big one really? There is always someone better than you; so, when people want to work with someone, they do not pick someone who is most talented. They pick someone who is easier to work with. You need to present yourself professionally and be easy to work with. You can come with all your talent but if you are hard to work with,then it will be hard to do anything.

How was it transitioning from radio to doing adverts?

I wouldn’t say I really shifted because I still do adverts for radio. I joined radio on the basis of doing adverts and writing scripts. I still write. I still do radio; I just added the writing screen plays and stuff.

Do you do adverts and you are like, ‘I will never use this ever’?

No. You know, adverts are not mine. I do not write scripts for adverts; I appear as a model. So there is no time I will appear in an advert and then I think that even when they win awards they will not tell me (laughter).

You recently did an advert that everyone is familiar with and it is all about “mawowo”. Did you guys imagine how big it would be? 

When you are doing an advert, you do not think about how big it will be. In your mind, you are there to do a professional job because it is a hard job. Like the “mawowo” ad took almost 12 hours. You just want to get it right; otherwise you will stay there for long.

Read: Abel Mutua explains the making of the “mawowowo” ad

There is a show I used to like — Briefcase Inc. Interesting show. I read somewhere it was based on a true story. Was it something that happened to you?

You know, when you start a business, guys usually know what it takes to do business. You will just open a business, hustle and then get money and then you encounter things. You are asked for your email. It is the one you were using in campus and it has funny words inside “Magego Fire” and other weird things (laughter). You are asked for a business card and you do not have one and you miss out on a lot of work. Even established business have these problems. So,we just decided to tell these stories; at first we thought it was going to be a movie and then we realised it would be long. It would take like seven hours. We had these two guys who happened to be acting together and we thought they would click together.

You were born in New Delhi. Did you ever live in Uganda?

No. We left New Delhi when I was old enough to travel. That I was about six months old. We stayed in UG for like a year then moved to Kenya. I have lived here for more years than most Kenyans.

How?

You tell me how many people are under the age of 35 in Kenya: 70 percent. That is a lot of people (chuckles).

Do you normally go back?

Yes. Once in a while when I get the chance.

What is the harshest thing someone has ever told you about your craft?

(After a pause) “These things you do someone even a  Class 5 person can do it.”

And that was an executive who was saying this in a boardroom meeting.

And everyone else just left me there. We were a team and they were like, “The person we use is out of the country.” And I was like, “It’s okay.”

How do you develop that thick skin to let that not hurt you?

I’ve been in so many types of different art. TV, radio, art, drawing, live plays, I used to try doing portraits, I’ve played in a band (bass guitar).

Every time someone tries to tell you something bad about you … There are two different kinds of people: There are the ones who will try to help you and make your craft better. Those ones want to make you better.

Then there are the others who start insulting you and pulling you down. When you go on stage, you are not going there to try out and see how it goes. It is because you have something to say; be it on TV or radio.

It was like briefcase Inc. It was to show people that they are not alone; we also go through this and to also show corporates.  It was to show someone that they are not alone so they can be encouraged. You will ignore what haters are telling you.

Let’s talk about BYSS (Because You Said So). Not so many people get what you guys do.

Those are people who watch it on YouTube (laughter).

What inspired you to get into improv comedy?

You see, each member of the cast, if you sit with them and they tell you stories, you will laugh. But that is just the way because they are entertainers. So, Jason Runo had this idea; for people to do unscripted comedy. There are different types of comedy. Even a guy who does accents is a comedian. And a guy who puts in puns is also a comedian. Improv is a different type of comedy and there are guys who specialise in doing this. So, Jason called us and called Mugambi and K1 and told them to come and do a show. And he was broke; so he had to pay rent (laughter) and we told him, “You are our boy we gat you.”

The first show sold out and we were wondering what are guys coming to watch. There is no script; no rehearsals

You guys do not rehearse?

No. The host just comes and gets something from the audience. It is like playing charades. He throws something at you; you turn it into a scene and to put pressure on you; if you say something that is not funny you are punished. If the audience also does not like the way a segment is going they have the power to change it. That is why it is called “Because You Said So”.

Condense your 20s for us.

Ha! My 20’s? What did I do with them? Spent so many of them in campus. I got married in my 20s. I got married in my 20s; late 20s. They were spent in a combination of both formal and informal employment and discovering how formal employment changes people.

You meet someone and they are totally different but once it reaches five o’clock, now they become human again. They use these big words, they send emails and make your life difficult so that they can get a pay rise or pull you down. You find the real human nature.

You work with your wife? You do not find it weird?

No. I did not change what I was doing. She was a TV star by the time we were meeting. She is a producer and an editor; so it was easy.  The first time we worked together, it was in a play. So, it is actually easier.

Does money change people?

No. Actually, I tend to believe it just shows the real face of people. You know people behave in a certain way but once they get money, you will know who they are.  They are going to either be humble or the most arrogant people you have ever met.

If you were to change anything in the creative space in Kenya, what would it be?

It is for people to get paid. I do not think I can stress this enough. I would also encourage corporates to take the work that we do seriously and actually improve how they work with us. That is what I would change.

Yafesi in action on the “mawowowo” advert.

Do you think bureaucracy kills creativity?

I think bureaucracy kills everything. And that is what corporates sometimes do not understand. Sometimes you are asked for so many things and they end up disrupting the process. I think if we adopted a different way to handle creatives, it would be a good thing.

If you were to come back as a different thing or person in this world, what would it be?

A cat.

So, you are a cat guy?

No. My wife has cats; so that’s why. I’m a dog person actually. I would come back as a cat because they sleep a lot it just wake up, eat and go back to sleep. Who wouldn’t want that life? (Laughs.)

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