By Denis Kagino and Gilbert Kidimu
It is no secret that when a group of campus girls are sitting attentively in a hostel room; it is not a discussion going on but rather an episode of the TV soap opera Don’t Mess With An Angel.
Similarly, when Women in Zainab Aziz plaza wear smiles as they wrap up their day’s work; it is because there is Cuando Seas Mia (Paloma) showing later on TV that night. The corporate women and men alike ensure that 8:00pm finds them at home in time for Paloma.
I bet UMEME is the most reviled word in Uganda, for making people miss episodes of their favourite soap opera.
Yes, that is the power of television soap operas. And it is not something that began yesterday. Seasons come and seasons go. This statement is true of every fad in life. But this does not seem to be the case with the soap operas.
A soap opera, sometimes called “soap” for short, is an on-going episodic work of dramatic fiction presented in serial format on radio or as television programming.
The name soap opera stems from the original dramatic serials broadcast on radio that had soap manufacturers, such as Procter & Gamble as sponsors.
These early radio series were broadcast on weekdays during day time when most listeners would be housewives; thus the shows were aimed at a predominantly female audience. However, it is now common to find men joining their wives and daughters to watch their favourite soap. And, of course, they are no longer just a day time thing.
Since the early 90s; the days of that riveting Riviera on the then UTV, soap operas stormed Uganda like a hurricane and their popularity has been rising over the years.
There was No One But You on STV, Wild Rose, and a host of them that followed in the 90s. The 2000s have been dominated by Two Sides of Ana, Secreto De Amor, Camilla and the all-time favourite hit Second Chance.
These soaps are so popular that now children as well as businesses are being named after the characters from these soaps or even the soaps themselves.
Now with the influx of new television stations and subsequent cutthroat competition in the industry, television stations have turned their guns on soaps in their battle for viewers. Every television station now has a soap or two being aired, which has won each dedicated viewers.
Hidden Passions, Saborati, Rebecca, Gardener’s Daughter, Love Her to Death, among others have been the viewers’ favourites.
Most TV stations in Uganda are airing mainly Spanish soaps from Mexico and Venezuela. These were popularised by WBS TV with the very first soap Maria De Los Angeles, which was closely followed by The Woman of My Life.
The influx of Venezuelan and Mexican soaps on our local television was cemented by the emergency of the telenovella, El Cuerpo del Deseo (Second Chance), which featured the actor Mario Cimarro as Salvador — the soap took Ugandans by storm. Everyone suddenly fell in love with Second Chance, let alone the lead character, Salvador.
The latter had tables turn as the soaps audience changed from being almost exclusively women to the entire household as the guys too joined the fray. Who will ever forget the man women of all ages drooled over? They shuddered whenever he showed up bare-chested, and all guys wanted to be like him? Salvador Serenza is that guy who, for a whole year, had a cult-like following.
Todate, celebrities like rapper GNL Zamba and comedian Patrick Idringi still call themselves Salvador as a stage name.
Ben Mondo, a student of Kyambogo University says that he almost broke up with his girlfriend when she kept telling him of her crush on the heartthrob, Salvador.
Bukedde TV introduced Filipino soaps with the phenomenally successful The Promise (popularly known as Yna, after the lead character), taking the craze not just to a whole new level but an entirely new audience — the ordinary folk down town. They followed their success with The Long Wait and soon, NTV followed suit with Mari Mar.
Why we madly love soaps
They are a worldwide phenomenon, especially in countries like Mexico, Philippines, Colombia, Venezuela, Germany, Portugal, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina.
In Africa, the love is not just in Uganda but the entire continent, especially in Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria.
Unlike American TV that constantly shows us Hollywood glamour, totally the opposite of the actual life most of us live, these soaps reflect our society. There is a pretty village girl who catches the attention of a young man from a wealthy family, women who love to gossip, mothers-in-law who hate their daughters-in-law, bad boys who can’t wait to spend their wealthy parents’ money, the list is endless. Soaps totally reflect the lives we live.
The other very important aspect about them is they are so easy to follow. You will have caught up with all the details by the end of your first episode albeit starting months after it began.
“The dialogue is simple and there is a lot of gossiping going on that you don’t need your campus cousin to fill you in to understand,” says Becky Lamunu.
“People love to know what is going on in people’s private lives; which guy cheated on his girlfriend, the stuck-up bitch that doesn’t deserve such a nice guy, etc. We just love gossip and soaps give us a fair slice of it,” she adds.
Which Ugandan girl wouldn’t want to get married to a rich guy who will spoil her with a car and a house in Munyonyo, where she doesn’t have to wake up every weekday to work for a poor pay cheque? These soaps present a fantasy we all wish for.
The girls have long hair, curves in all the right places, and most importantly — booty. Typical Ugandan guys fantasy!
Dora Nambi, a development studies student at Makerere University religiously follows three soaps and Don’t Mess With An Angel being her favourite. “I love Marichuy. She is believable and her experience can be anyone’s experience. Juan Miguel is every girl’s dream guy. He is a gentleman, attractive, and charming,” says Nambi.
Don’t Mess With An Angel is also Shamir Mpanja, a lawyer’s favourite soap. “It is a story that can apply in a person’s life. I love the characters, setting, lifestyle and the good wardrobe,” she says.
“They are easier to follow and understand. You watch one episode and you get the whole plot. They are relaxing and show on free TV,” adds Mpanja.
But not everyone is crazy about these soaps. Some people, especially guys, hate them. Bryan Ariho, an IT student at Makerere University, calls them predictable and monotonous.
“The voice overs are particularly annoying. Imagine the voice of the person you hear doesn’t belong to the hot belle you are watching and drooling over. How lame is that? By the way why do we have to hear the characters breathing? And why do these women cry so much? There is no episode that goes without a generous amount of tears, hallo?”
Husbands think their wives are being more loyal to their TVs than them. “Our wives no longer listen to us. You may ask her to offer you water for a bath and she will in turn ask you to let her first watch When You Are Mine,” one husband complains.
Denis Olam, a film maker, thinks that the trend of airing foreign soaps is killing the market for local productions. He says it is not proper to air foreign soaps when local soaps are available. Ugandan film makers should therefore take advantage of the fuss about TV soaps. He commends the work done by local film makers who produce The Hostel, a local soap. There are other local soaps like Destiny are being aired.
All in all, whether local or foreign, Soap operas are now adored by almost every Ugandan. The competition among the TV stations has heightened and every viewer’s question as each soap ends is who will air the best soap. Many just cannot wait to watch the next one.
And now that every channel is promising the very best of soaps, many of you will end up postponing reading this article so you can catch up on your most celebrated soap. So, why not lay down my pen and let you watch your soap in peace.
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passionate affairs with soaps