10-02-2021 by Freddie del Curatolo
In these difficult times, full of clouds over the future, one appreciates even more the young people who stubbornly try to (over)live the life that many others only dream of through the internet and social networks.
Michele Ponte is one of these young people: 33 years old a few days ago in Malindi, teenage aspirations as a writer (and not in his sleep, he has wrote seven novels and has even been translated in Bulgaria ...), a scholarship to become a screenwriter and now a professional storyteller, using a small camera instead of a pen and Youtube videos instead of sheets of paper.
What happened? The "vlogger" himself tells malindikenya.net in front of a "dawa", the Kenyan national cocktail he is tasting for the first time.
"What happened was that I sent my umpteenth novel to Mondadori and, already positive, they replied! With sincerity, they advised me to become famous, then if anything they might consider publishing my book. Telling my story has always been my goal, my true passion. I realised, however, that it was time to choose a different way of doing it, and that to become popular today you have to use the tools that are now in everyone's homes and on their mobile phones, especially young people.
A choice that coincides with Michele's other great love, travelling.
"I lost my father too early,' admits the Roman vlogger, 'and my mother, a Polish citizen, went back to her country. I started to move and it was a great idea to travel with my cousin to the Philippines. There I met a real Youtube guru who taught me the secrets of the vlogging trade. And here I am, in Kenya, the country where I would like to stay for a while".
He is a free spirit, a nomadic soul, a low-cost traveller, but one who has been struck by Africa. And not like many of his fellow countrymen after a holiday in Malindi or Watamu. He started from the working-class neighbourhoods of Nairobi, travelling on ramshackle matatu, frequenting local guest houses, going as far as remote villages on the Tanzanian border, before landing on the coast, as the many videos that have reached up to 180,000 viewers show.
"For me, travelling means being immersed in the true reality of each country, in order to be able to recount it in depth - explains Michele - even if in this, by now my job, I have to privilege topics that create general interest: gossip, curiosity, scandals or jealousies. Those are the most popular. The footage I am most proud of, one at the Dandora dump in the midst of the real, terrible condition of human degradation in Nairobi, is hardly seen by anyone.
At least until he is famous enough. But in the meantime Michele, whose surname Ponte sounds almost like a trait d'union between Italy and Kenya, has tripled the number of subscribers to his YouTube channel since he arrived here and has produced reports such as the one on the new bridge in Mombasa (he was one of the first to do so), which have reached almost 200,000 views. Frivolo and "gossipy" when he needs to be, but also more courageous than many vain reporters: in Mombasa he filmed live a phenomenon of corruption, an agent who tried to frame him by taking him to the police station to extort money. In the end, when he explained what was going on and how many views the stream had, it all ended in a bubble.
And "Michael Bridge" gained more points, and subscribers.
But who watches his videos, strictly in English?
"An international audience, people who have met me on previous trips around the world, and now a lot of Kenyans. Italians represent the minority of my followers and there is a reason for that: very few know and understand English, even if I speak it in a simple way and with a clear pronunciation".
The Kenyans, however, have already adopted him, and his fellow youtubers in Nairobi and Mombasa are trying to get the secrets of the trade from him.
In recent weeks Michele has become very popular in the capital for some "vlogs" made together with a well-known Kenyan influencer with whom he staged a (fake?) love story.
"For her it was a boom of visits and registrations - reveals the Italian - and the word spread, so much so that another girl tried to 'snatch' me from her, or at least stage a love triangle. I'm not a fan of these fictions based on the reality TV model, but they undoubtedly serve to increase their audience and attract sponsors.
Yes, because let's talk about the practical side: Michele is not rich from a family and has decided that he wants to live off of this. So as well as always looking for the lowest prices or those who host him, he lowers his "production" costs by sponsoring those who offer him lunches and dinners or companies to whom he gives visibility in his videos. With Youtube's income alone, you can't get by.
Fortunately, with the numbers made lately and the "registered portfolio" some Kenyan sponsors have already moved and elected him as testimonial.
"I chose Kenya because it was one of the first countries to reopen for tourism and also because of my Polish passport, but I found a receptive and modern people, as well as hospitable. Here too they are realising that this is the marketing of the future,' Michele explains. 'Everyone watches YouTube and the language of the vloggers is the closest to the masses. When I went to Gede for a video report on the ruins of the ancient Arab city, the museum guide already knew me, he had seen all my videos!
Disappointed by Italy and the inability of the public and private sectors to look ahead, to value art and the initiatives of young people, Michele has decided that he would like to live in East Africa and tell the local population and the rest of the world about it.
"It can also be a resource for tourism," he admits, "because making people travel with their eyes and thoughts reactivates the desire for holidays and also to tell Kenyans about the beauty of places like Malindi, Watamu or Diani, for example. I hope that more and more sponsors, as is already happening, will put their trust in me. I am Kenya's most famous "mzungu" vlogger.
Sooner or later, we hope, Michele Ponte will also write a book about this. In the meantime let's see two of his video! And don't forget to subscribe to his Youtube channel.
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