Words : Moshood
The 2018 film, Lucky, became very popular, with so much ease, among a section of young Ghanaians; so much that the “Instant Cult Classic” tag bestowed on the film is hardly a far- fetched one. The phenomenon spoke to the reality of scarce outlets, in the country, for unguarded depictions and expressions, in vantage media, of the lived experiences of many a Ghanaian millennial.
Enter Joseph Nti, a young Ghanaian man, millennial himself, with an interest in purposely creating content for Ghanaian millennials. Reactions on the socials suggest that Joseph’s creations so far have proven to be popular, high-quality sources of entertainment for their target audience. The rapper Sarkodie, for instance, albeit arriving late to the funfair, recently tweeted links to episodes of Off The Top(OTT) – one of Joseph’s shows, a quiz show – tagging the show his “new go-to,” “very fun, very dope.”
In this dialogue below, I speak with Joseph about his shows – OTT, the vox-pop podcast named Sincerely Accra, and his most recent creation. We also touch on such things as: his creative vision(s) and the workings of creating content for the Ghanaian millennial.
Was it mere passion that put you to work on creating content for Ghanaian millennials; or did you feel like there was something missing in terms of fun, relatable content for this demographic – a sort of hole that you wanted to contribute in filling?
It was a combination of both. You know, for a lot of young people, there aren’t many opportunities that put us in places of work where we could directly learn and become and do something. When you go into industries or the corporate whatever, young people that enter as interns are merely sent to buy food, do photocopy work and stuff like that. I wanted to do more, to get experience in terms of production and other things like creative direction… and first of all, it was difficult getting into job positions like that, and when you got in, you weren’t really doing meaningful work. So I started to create links for myself. I started a school magazine back then, did the editorial work, creative directed the cover with the team that I put together, all on my own. I started getting that experience from there. And I wanted to venture into film and film production and content creation. It was hard ‘cause at first I tried to get into some of these places and it was difficult to get into, so I just decided to do my own thing. I started making documentaries; and then Off The Top came about because I was watching BK Chat London a lot and I realized we didn’t really have anything that was Ghanaian, that was like this, that people could easily enjoy and jump on, and talk about. There were lots of American, British stuff that we watched on Youtube and I just couldn’t find that Ghanaian thing. I got nostalgic from remembering old Ghanaian shows like Suncity, It Takes two, Agoro, all of those things. And then I felt like I wanted to do something for our generation and seeing as we’re barely on tv anymore, but rather, like, on the internet, I felt Youtube was appropriate and that I needed to tailor it to our people so that we understand and have fun. So it was a mixture of both, you know me feeling there was a gap, something missing, and then me just kinda wanting to create an avenue for me to learn as a producer and I’ve learned so much now.
What would you say has been your fundamental guiding creative vision, as a content creator?
I think that for me that would be diversity, representation and entertainment. I’ve always believed in diversity because I know what it felt like growing up and watching stuff and consuming content where I couldn’t see myself. And I know how I feel when I see myself, how I feel about that content – always going back to it, loving it, enjoying it. When I don’t see myself in stuff, it’s hard for me. And so I want everybody to feel seen; I always try and have a lot of different kinds of people, personality-wise, appearance-wise..and a whole lot. And the reason for entertainment, for me, is this: There’s a lot of shit that’s going on in the world and I see the news outlets that report the real news that’s happening and I respect them for that, but I feel like we need to have things that make us laugh, things that, you know, take your focus away from your personal problems and just focus on something else. So if it’s people that are not getting answers right on OTT and you’re going to spend the next ten minutes debating whether they’re acting or not, I want you to do that. If you’re going to listen to sincerely Accra and think this person is wild and wacky, and not worry about your problems, I want you to do that, you know.
In a past interview you mentioned “self doubt and second guessing” as what you battle with, as a content creator. I’m curious if that has changed, almost one year later -especially considering the increase in popularity that your shows enjoy in recent times?
Oh my goodness, it’s worse; because when we started out we were a very small show. I remember being very excited when we reached a thousand views. That was, like, our breaking point. Now, we’ve amassed about 17k on the sex trivia issue. Sarkodie’s tweeted about us. Amaarae’s tweeting about us… So, I feel like now more than ever, there’s a lot more pressure because more people are watching us. And now that a lot of people are watching and you’ve set a certain precedent, you just cannot fail. And so I second guess myself so much. I’ve gotten to a point where I come up with the ideas, so many topics and stuff for shows and by the time we’re about to film, like literally the day before, I scrape everything. And even after we film, there are episodes that I don’t put out. And some of the episodes, even when I put them out, I’m like this episode is not good… And then when it’s people will respond like: OMG! this is the best one ever. And I’m always taken aback. So the self doubting has not changed, it’s worse now, but I try as much as possible to not beat my head about it too much and just go with my gut. And sometimes I consult with some very dear friends of mine whose opinions I actually respect.
Have any new challenges come up?
Oh yes. When I started I was just trying to get some competence as a content creator and as a producer. It was merely for fun and to produce content. Now it’s gotten to a point where I’m spending a lot of money on it so I feel like I need to make money. And so the business aspect of the show has become a challenge because not only is it difficult for me to get sponsors on my own, but people are seeing the business opportunities that the show presents and they’re reaching out to us to say we we wanna collaborate blah blah blah, and the deals are always shitty. And when you give them your rate sheet, they always feel you’re charging too much but they forget things like it’s a 10-person cast and crew and then a producer. Also, like me wanting to do bigger and better things like a ‘meet and greet’ and stuff, and seeking proposals and it being so difficult because they’re comparing your numbers to the numbers in Nigeria, and it just doesn’t make sense. And in Ghana, you know, a lot of companies are going for numbers as opposed to quality and relatability and actual fanbase. So its very difficult getting sponsorship and its also very difficult navigating the whole corporate world down to the people who wanna collaborate with you, you know, picking and choosing what’s right, making sure that the collaboration is seamless ‘cause I really don’t want the content to scream ad at you; it’s
supposed to be seamless. So thats the challenge right now, the business aspect of it. Really challenging.
What kind of narratives do you find yourself drawn to, as reader/listener/viewer…? And would you say that has any bearing at all on the kind of content you create?
I can tell you this: entertainment. I’ve always been a big fan of celebrity news, pop culture,
entertainment, because I guess it was a cool escape. You know, every time when people are
talking about celebrities’ lives and what they do, people don’t realize it, but its an escape from
your reality. I feel like I always enjoy watching documentaries that tell me about someone else’s
life, learning about someone else’s life, following celebrities’ lives…just that kind of thing; behind
the scenes and stuff like that. I used to watch behind the scenes of music videos all the time.
These are the kind of things that i’m drawn to – celebrity news, pop culture news, music and
entertainment. And I think that that kind of has an influence on the content I put out, because the content I put out falls within those categories as well.
On Sincerely Accra, you’re this cheerful code-switching talkertive constantly cackling at his own silly jokes. I wonder if you’re this same animated character when you’re not in work mode as host of Sincerely Accra?
That’s the funny thing, I’m not. I’m actually an introvert. I don’t like going out much. If it was up to me, I would stay indoors and just binge-watch stuff. But there was a time in my life when I was outgoing because I was trying to get into people, trying to meet people, talk to people more, because I realized that as a content creator, a lot of the stuff that I do need to be inspired by people. So I used to go out quite a lot, just to meet people, see different mindsets and perspectives. I did that for a while and I was good with it. And now that I’ve kind of, like, withdrawn from that, a lot of people see me and are like “Hey, we don’t see you out ..” And it’s so funny because within me, being true to who I am, I am an introvert. Sincerely Accra is one of the reasons why I actually go anywhere. Because I have to record people for the vox pop. Sometimes I don’t feel like going out, but we have to record, and so I have to go out and do it. I love to just be with myself. I’m not really that loud and animated; I feel like that character comes out around certain people – really good, close friends that I can feel free and do that with. But it’s not me all the time because its exhausting to be that animated all the time. And as we keep doing Sincerely Accra, I realize that the character’s becoming more and more produced, because of the show. I realized that now I’m actually paying attention to how I present that personality for Sincerely Accra because I want the show to be entertaining. So, basically, it’s a
character. I mean, I’ve met people who’ve said to me: oh my goodness, you’re so quiet…”
One of the pitfalls of OTT and Sincerely Accra put together, to my mind, is that they offer a rather limited expression of millennial thought and experience in Ghana – considering who is featured and the spaces these individuals inhabit et cetera. I acknowledge this this could be due to challenges – such as logistical – that I may not be privy to; and besides these shows do not claim to be the definitive sources of the totality of millennial experience in Ghana. What would be your response to that?
I would say yes. You know, when I started doing Off The Top, a lot of people would complain and say that it was for cool kids, d bees. I used to be worried about that. And then I was like: you know what, as a content creator, you need to understand who your target market is, and you need to create for them. And there’s nothing wrong with having a niche market. I feel like a lot of people run into trouble when they try to please everybody. Like, I didn’t set out to kind of like appeal to a certain class, I tried very well to get a great mix of people that would represent every class. But also, I feel like with the personalities that are on there, there’s a general assumption about who they are, with regard to their backgrounds and social class. Because I can tell you, the people that are on the show, the cast, not all of them are from the same highly privileged social class. I realize that in this country there’s a lot of guilt that is sent in the direction of people who have some level of privilege, whatever it is. If you can speak good English, that kind of privilege, sometimes they make you feel bad about it. You went to a school that is not sito, people make you feel bad about it..I get that a lot. And I mean, I get it, I get why people do that. But also people are born into good families and good homes and it’s no fault of theirs that they have that privilege. I’m very much aware of that and I would say Off The Top is
tailored towards a certain kind of millennial, which is why when we were doing Sincerely Accra, it was very important for me to not be catering to that particular demographic. So you realize that with Sincerely Accra, I’m speaking all of these local languages and when I go out to interview people, I try as much as possible to, like, interview the everyday Ghanaian, and not just the internet savvy kid or whatever. I try as much as possible to do that because, like I said, I respect diversity and representation a lot, and I’m really trying to branch into that. And there’s always so much that each person can do. That’s why there’s room for everybody, actually; there’s room for everybody to come into the content creation scene and create for another
segment that has not been catered for.
Speaking of which, what are your general impressions on outlets for the expression and documentation of millennial cultures on the African continent?
It’s largely on the internet right now; we’re not reading much so it’s like fuck magazines and print-outs. And that’s really bad. Even on the internet, everything has to be super visual, and that’s why audio visual is winning, because blogs and stuff are not being read that much. I feel like everybody is getting into social media now, and it’s really interesting – if you pay attention to, like, Instagram stories, WhatsApp stories and whatever else, you realize that we are all becoming storytellers of a sort because of the way in which we present our stories. Even on Twitter, how people present threads and other things. You realize the amount of thought and creativity that goes into all of these things, and it’s really cool. We’re doing magic with our
storytelling in terms of how we put stuff out there. So, I’m saying, the internet kinda is the biggest platform for people to express themselves freely. Outside of that, I’m really loving the small kind of altè culture – or whatever that is – here in Accra; it’s a small clique that is growing and we’re supportive of each other. Every time that I go to creative events, I see them and everybody’s doing something – that’s the important thing. Like: I know Sel Kofiga did something on hair politics, and it was so good to follow that on Instagram. Poetyk Prynx was doing something about mental health and disability – I ran into him at the mall one time and he was giving free hugs; Benewaah and what she’s doing with Harmattan Rain, I feel like it’s just amazing the freedom that we have right now; I think that there’s a certain understanding and camaraderie that’s come around and people feel empowered to do things because they know that there’s a support system. And the easy way to also put that out is the internet. So it’s not like before where you have to really struggle, but you can just find your own space on the internet and also push things out and be yourself.
Could you possibly say a bit about your forthcoming show, Mic on?
You know what, I’m not ashamed to say that I really overestimated Mic On. The way that I wanted to go, the stuff that I wanted to do with it, was really bigger than the budget that I had. We had a great turn out for auditions and then we selected people and everything. But a lot went on. I grossly underestimated the budget that I needed; like the way I wanted it was just too big, so I’ve had to put it on the back-burner, to rethink how I can do it and start small, because with everything that I’ve done, I’ve always started small and grown into it. But I have another show, Cheap Talk, which just debuted recently.
Please say a bit more about that.
Cheap Talk is something that I’d been working on for a while because I really love the Breakfast
Club and I love Joe Budden’s show, Everyday Struggle, and I kinda wanted to create something
that just talks about the Ghanaian music industry. I’m so much in love with music and the
industry, and I really want our artists to do well. So, I just wanted to contribute to the discussion
that allows our artists and the work that they do to be centre stage, as opposed to anybody else.
Hence, Cheap Talk. And it’s from the point of ordinary citizens, not music experts, so that
everybody can relate to it. And I mean, they make it wild and wacky and borderline
disrespectful, but it’s part of the content. Episodes will be coming out weekly.
And beyond Cheap Talk?
I’m really hoping to pick up another documentary, ‘cause I haven’t done a documentary in about
two years and that’s what I actually started with. I’m hoping to do one. I have several subject
matters that I’m still thinking about.