From bootleg to Best of Africa
Jamaica has had a spotty relationship with bootleg CDs and videos: from the era in which compact discs were the medium of choice to distribute pirated music and movies up to now when it seems that everything is available online.
In at least one instance, though, illegal DVDs on Kingston's streets led directly to legitimate cable television programming. The husband-and-wife team of Peter and Tricia Ezechie saw the demand for African movies first-hand on the Jamaican capital's streets, which led to them setting up Best of Africa on FLOW. The programming, currently in a two-hour block, which is repeated once weekly, could go up to four hours, or even a channel of its own, for their Niger Productions.
In 2012, Tricia brought Nollywood star Omotola Jalade to Jamaica. "I took her to downtown Kingston and we had a little tour. The videos were omnipresent," Tricia said. Some persons also recognised Jalade from her videos and the actress grew accustomed to being greeted in Jamaica.
Even before, in 2007, they had seen the bootleg African movie DVDs in Half-Way Tree.
These were strong indications that there was a demand for African programming, and the couple set about providing a legitimate avenue. "Our dream is sharing," Peter said.
Currently, the pogramminng, which runs on FLOW's Channel 100, consists of the reality show Jimikye, centring on an actor who the Ezechies say is the leading actor in Nollywood - and who was once dating a Jamaican woman living in Nigeria. There is also a movie, and, heading up to Mother's Day, a show, Pamper Your Mom, in which a mother is given special treatment, with cameras following the entire process.
The initial Best of Africa run, which started in March, was given 24 weeks. At the end, the pair hopes to get their own FLOW channel or, if not, double the current time slot and go up to four-hour blocks of programming, with Nollywood and Ghanian programming central to Best of Africa.
Peter noted that there is demand for Best of Africa in Trinidad and Tobago, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Barbados. He said one of the African film producers came to Jamaica in 2012 and was "quite startled at the interest".
Explaining Jamaicans' affinity for African film content, Tricia said, "Jamaicans like the soap opera, they like the drama." Peter added, "We see the similarities in culture."
So far, Best of Africa is self-funded. "When it started, we had to do a lot of things to get it off the ground," Peter said. "We have things running now, and we have to get it to the next level."
And Tricia added: "The same way the Internet made everything available, we want to make African programming available."