How artiste has fashioned himself into one of Kenya's most sought after podcasts producerMonday January 16 2023
Some of the greatest musicians had their start in church. It was no different for Dan Aceda who credits St Luke’s Kenyatta Parish with his own, reciting bible verses on Sunday before moving on to the choir.
He was a soprano before his voice broke, taking him down to his present tenor. Later, he would meet up with Wyre, one-half of Necessary Noize. “In my story, I always say Wyre discovered me,” Mr Aceda says.
The rest as they say is history and Mr Aceda is the artiste, formally known as ‘Chizi’, we know today.
On top of singing and playing a myriad of instruments, he diversified his portfolio to producing which saw him open a studio at the GoDown Arts Centre in Kilimani.
In 2016, an acquaintance asked to use his studio to record a podcast, a concept alien to him at the time.
“Do we add music to this?” Mr Aceda asked and was even more puzzled when the answer was negative.
Later, Adelle Onyango of the Legally Clueless Podcast fame asked him to guest star in her instalment. His interest was piqued and the new medium started to make sense – a little bit.
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In 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Mr Aceda closed shop and boxed his musical equipment. During the lockdown, a friend of his, Christine Mungai, the curator at Baraza Media Lab (a co-working space) mentioned that she was getting calls to record podcasts.
A conversation started that would later lead to the birth of SemaBox.
After many brainstorming sessions deep into the lockdown, it was decided that the boardroom at Baraza Media Lab would be set up as a day studio where the recording would take place before setting down at the close of business. There were ten requests at the time.
In September 2020, Mr Aceda designed the SemaBox logo, went to town and had it cut out and a coat of paint went up alongside the branding. The initial cost for an episode was Sh1,000!
With a team of one – himself, Mr Aceda would record podcasts all day, rush home at 6 pm to start the tedious process of editing, deliver the products the next morning and groggily come in to start the process all over again.
It was unsustainable. The cost had to go up.
Maurice Otieno, Executive Director at Baraza Media Lab who’d since invested in the idea, pointed out how ‘unhealthy’ what he was doing was. In February 2021, Mr Aceda acceded and added one person to the team.
Today, SemaBox is comprised of a team of six. He can get a bit of sleep now and refers to Ms Mungai, Mr Otieno and the team at Baraza as his ‘angel investors.’
They even accorded their golden goose $2,000 for additional manpower.
A call from Google came through to record 60 episodes for the Utamaduni Wetu podcast for their Arts & Culture platform.
They promptly agreed to Mr Aceda’s quote and he found himself seated next to actor extraordinaire John Sibi Okumu and the poet Sitawa Namwalie for a marathon week.
“We should have charged more,” he says with a smile. The experience however showed him he had a product worth delving further into. It was the catalyst.
Towards the end of 2021, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation knocked on SemaBox’s door and gave them carte blanche about a ‘new way of talking to our people’ thus the Mazao Talks podcast, an agri-business platform was launched to great acclaim.
Ms Ory Okollo, a Kenyan activist and Mr Aceda’s mentor saw an opportunity for her protégé to build on the market and suggested it, even giving him a book on the same.
Armed with more lessons, Mr Aceda went on to launch 70 podcasts in a three-month period.
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SemaBox has further invested in the visual medium and recently launched The Social Newsroom utilising this form of media.
To date, SemaBox has recorded more than 800 episodes of different podcasts, a fete Mr Aceda claims are the highest in the world by a single entity.
He has worked with 246 creators and ventured across the Kenyan borders, working with clients primarily in Uganda and South Africa but also as far off the grid as Haiti.
Does SemaBox compete with traditional media? To this Mr, Aceda says, “The market, in this case, is not finite, a client may want to watch the news on traditional media but at the gym, a SemaBox-produced podcast playing from your earphones works better.
If you want to learn about something specific, say dairy farming, then Mazao Talks is the show for you.”
Mr Aceda has learnt many lessons along the way but stresses the importance of two of those. “Pick people, not projects. A good partner gets you further than a good idea with a bad person!”
His second lesson which he attributes to his partners at Baraza Media Lab is having the right attitude towards the work you do.
His vision for SemaBox is building infrastructure and giving tools for digital creation to content producers and creators. He would also like to have more locations thus making it easier for his clients to find his product.
To let his hair loose, Mr Aceda credits a visit to his village in Siaya with helping him recalibrate. He is an avid dancer.
Music is never far from him either. He is working on his biggest musical project of 2023 – Something About Nairobi, the musical which will be staged later in the year.