Big Brother Africa has been enchanting viewers for six years now, luring African audiences who crave local content. In the past, television producers have written Africa off as a place not deserving of its own locally-produced entertainment.
But now, reality TV is highlighting the growth of Africa’s middle classes, and forging a new continent-wide identity in the process.
Companies such as MTV and MultiChoice, South Africabased producer of BBAfrica, have recognised the value of entertainment starring African people.
By promoting crosscultural interaction, these TV shows are helping to bring Africans closer together. BBAfrica groups 26 contestants from 14 sub-Saharan African countries into one house.
Building on the massively successful Western format, the show has enjoyed success promoting musical talent. Last season it featured no less than 20 artists from 11 different countries, who were brought in to perform at parties and evictions.
The show also invites 11 DJs from African cities to spend a day in the house. Berhanu Digaffe, host of the Leza lunchtime show on Sheger FM in Addis Ababa, spent 24 hours in the Big Brother house in 2009.
He says the show promotes dialogue between people from different African countries. “We just cooked, talked, and shared life experiences.
I was telling them about my country and my heritage. I talked to people from Zambia and Kenya and heard about their stories.”
The spread of Big Brother and Pop Idol to Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa, has led many to believe that Africa has caught the same celebrity craze as the West.
But Yeshi Demelash, a judge on Ethiopian Idol, thinks the show’s popularity stems from a desire for professional, not public, recognition. “People just want to be told how well they can sing. The winners of the first season have already been forgotten by the public.”
“Nigerian Idol contestants reach for the stars on prime time TV”
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