Social media having the hold that it does means instant celebrity has become a free-for-all, and a good thing, too. And, as Africa’s internet population grows and becomes ever more engaged - with the help of our slowly but surely improving connection speeds and rising bandwidth - we’ll soon see more 'characters', savvy brand vendors, unintentional internet pin-ups and the likes clocking up hits at a Youtube channel near you. For better and for worse. Here's a round-up of viral phenomena you’ve more than likely come across in the last couple years.
Once something goes viral it’s completely out of its originator’s control, as Jim Chuchu, Dan, and Blinky Bill, together the geeky, Kenyan, Afro-electro pop band unassumingly called Just A Band, discovered when in 2010 they resurrected a mythical icon from their childhood in their second promo video Ha-He – a fictitious character called Makmende, Kenya’s equivalent to the Chuck Norris craze from about 4 years before. ‘Makmende Amerudi’ (Makmende is back) announced the video’s cover graphic and a nation remembered. Up went the Facebook page and in came the Makmende-isms: “When Makmende enters a room he doesn't turn on the light, he turns off the darkness,” or “Makmende is able to tweet 141 characters”… At the last count there were were 78,671 fans still actively posting such. The widespread resonance crossed borders as word about Kenya’s first viral sensation took on a life of its own, showing up on the radars of Wall Street Journal, CNN and Huffington Post and almost overshadowing the band itself.
DON'T TOUCH ME ON MY STUDIO
In a country still struggling to fill the gaping holes left in its society’s fabric by the apartheid system, a bit of comic relief is always welcome. One April morning last year, South African broadcaster ETV had as guests the political analyst Lebohang Pheko and the right-wing party AWB’s secretary general Andrie Visagie. No amount of planning could have prepared the show’s producers, its viewers nor its impassioned participants for what followed when the discussion turned to the sensitive topic of abuse of farm workers in South Africa. It was a classic moment in live television forever immortalised by Youtube (50,000 views in 24 hours). The phrase ‘Don’t touch me on my studio’ would remain at the centre of a joke the whole country shared for months to come. There is even a website with a collection of the various parodies of the incident that emerged soon after. (The action begins at 0:31)
LET ME TAKE U TO DA MOVIES
Before Rebecca Black there was Bangs. Bangs is a Sudanese immigrant in Australia, having moved there as a refugee from his country. Now, we all know a Bangs – that young guy infatuated with rap, the style, the image, the simplistic beats who fancies himself as a bit of a rap star. The difference here is that Ajak Chol put it out there. His innocent proposition Let Me Take U To Da Movies has fed the car-crash curiosity of over 5 million viewers since it hit the internet in '09. I know too many rappers who won’t see these kind of numbers even if they rap for the rest of their lives. Even more surprising is that on the back of this viral vid he had people queuing around the block to catch a glimpse of the overnight celebrity at a gig he did in Melbourne. There must not be a lot do in Melbourne.
Cute little Contina’s home is one of the millions of African households to whom Christian television network TBN broadcasts daily. In every one of those homes someone has a favourite pastor. My mother’s is Benny Hinn. She calls him her spiritual father. It’s safe to assume then that Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, PhD – named in Forbes’ list of Nigeria’s 5 richest pastors – who heads up a successful healing ministry not unlike Hinn's, is big at Contina’s house. In this video, she takes to the pulpit to do her Pastor Chris impression, preaching, barking commands of praise, speaking in tongues, slaying in the spirit and all sorts. It’s even more interesting when you scroll through the comments on Youtube.
Although franchised all over the world, leading Peri-peri chicken brand Nando’s commercials are made in South Africa for local audiences, and use satire as their hallmark to genuine laugh out loud effect. Listed in Advertising Age’s top 30 marketing brands in 2010, the brand's every campaign is as eagerly anticipated as the product itself, and always becomes a talking point. Here they take shots at local mobile phone service network Cell C. You have to be in South Africa to really get this one, but there are others if you let Google be your guide.
DON'T JEALOUS ME
I am most impressed by the way Tolu Ogunmefun aka T-Boy aka Don’t Jealous Me has seized the opportunity to leverage his brand of very literal humour and just run with it. In this interview with Factory 78 we find out his intentions to do the full 360: rap, act, merchandise, whatever. The folks behind the new British online sitcom Meet the Adebanjos have done a smart thing and harnessed his endorsement. And this guy is prolific: almost every fortnight he'll do a parody of a song, a random Youtube address to his subscribers, or a skit. The Facebook Date is one of his most popular virals to date.
You could say O’ and Teju Komolafe, better known as the Naija Boyz, laid the foundation for T-Boy. Based in the US, they were the first to blow up with an idea so simple it’s genius: African version of anything in pop culture is going to be funny if you put a bit of thought into it. They’ve been a little quiet of late, unlike two or three years ago when the twin stand up comedians first surfaced with their take on tunes like Lollipop and Crank Dat Soulja Boy. So their latest, The Black and Yellow remix, is something of a comeback, way past the 2 mill mark and seen even in the last issue of Vibe Magazine.
I’m sure there are more though. Who are the Youtube celebrities of African descent that you’ve laughed, marvelled or even been disgusted at in recent times?
Written by Phiona Okumu. This article first appeared on AfriPOP! Mag.