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Letters

LETTERS: Online search data on musicals spot on

Tinga Tinga Tales
Scene from Tinga Tinga Tales musical. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

On January 16, the Business Daily published an article titled ‘‘Global research misrepresents Kenyans’’ by Margaretta wa Gacheru. The article claimed that The Theatre Times (TTT) had ‘‘made a wild allegation’’ by stating that the three top-searched musicals by Kenyans online were ‘‘High School Musical’’, ‘‘The Lion King’’ and ‘‘Hamilton.’’

She was referring to an article I authored, titled ‘Top-Searched Musicals in Africa’. Ironically, her article on ‘misrepresentation’ itself misrepresented its source material. TTT did not make any allegation, wild or otherwise. The statistics were released in November 2019 by TicketSource, an events-related company.

To illustrate the anomaly, if the Business Daily were to report that the current Kenyan population is 47.6 million according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, that would not be tantamount to saying that ‘‘Business Daily claims that there are 47.6 million Kenyans’’. The veteran arts journalist conflated the media outlet with the research company.

She also wondered why Eric Wainaina’s ‘‘Mo Faya the Musical’’ and ‘‘Tinga Tinga Tales’’ were missing from the list. But the researchers clearly stated that they looked at data spanning the last 15 years.

Fifteen years ago, ‘‘Tinga Tinga Tales’’ did not exist and ‘‘Mo Faya’’ in 2004 was initially titled ‘‘Lwanda - Man of Stone’’. Besides, I mentioned those two shows in my article, describing the former as ‘arguably the most successful homegrown musical.’ Interestingly, Margaretta admits to having Googled Lin-Manuel’s Hamilton which means that she contributed to the statistics she disputes!

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She, however, errs in describing it as ‘the first hip-hop musical ever’. Officially, the first hip-hop stage show was the off-Broadway musical ‘‘So! What Happens Now?’’ in 1990. Lin-Manuel himself had a previous hip-hop musical titled ‘‘In the Heights’’ in 2005. It is also noteworthy that ‘‘High School Musical’’ and ‘‘The Lion King’’ have been adapted into popular, youth-oriented films.

It is, therefore, not surprising that Kenyans online would be more interested in them.

All in all, Margaretta’s article appeared ‘rushed’. It conjured up the image of a scribe chasing a deadline. She did not contact the source of the information she condemned (TicketSource) nor the company whose data they mined (Google Inc), even though both are just a click away.

In fact, Google Kenya’s offices are located just a couple of kilometres away from the media house she works for! It’s plain to see that she did not consult them, to confirm the dubious statistics, or even request fresh data that may be more relevant to the local arts scene.

And Google’s proclivity for data-gathering is well known. There’s a meme currently doing the Internet rounds that depicts a supposed Google executive saying: ‘Google now hiring. No need to apply. We already have all your data.’

I, on the other hand, did contact TicketSource and go over the methodology they used, and I am satisfied that it led to the information they presented. (Incidentally, all this information is freely available on their website, www.TicketSource.us/blog)

In the end, what appears to be a hard-hitting piece by a well-known arts critic is but a rehash of my article but with a negative slant, and factual errors.

Alex Nderitu, Theatre Times Regional Editor for Kenya

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