Maverick Life


This week we’re listening to: An award-winning African soundscape

This week we’re listening to: An award-winning African soundscape
Guardians of the River poster. Image: Supplied

‘I will do everything in my power to protect this place,’ says Dr Steven Boyes. This place, of wonder and mythology, is the Okavango, and the award-winning African podcast series ‘Guardians of the River’ is all about this magical corner of the world.

“It’s a place of life, death and mystery, and it’s called the Okavango Delta. The life is the water, and the water knows no borders. It twists and turns through Angola and Namibia until it converges in Botswana, spreading into one mighty freshwater delta called the Okavango,” podcast host Kerllen Costa says as he introduces the series.

Guardians of the River

  • Format: Podcast series
  • Year: 2021
  • Listen on: Apple Podcasts, Spotify or the Wild Bird Trust website.

Spanning three countries and between 6,000km2 and 15,000km2, the Okavango Basin is a water source for a million people, and is known as one of the most biodiverse places in the world.

Each year, about 11km3 of water surges from the Okavango River into the Okavango Delta; the lifeblood for the otherwise dry region and an oasis for wildlife and biodiversity.

“I will do everything in my power to protect this place,” says Dr Steve Boyes. Audiogram by Headliner, and supplied by the Wild Bird Trust.

The podcast is a love story for the Okavango and its people, and the result is a uniquely African story, but with a universal heart that beats for the planet that we all share.

The show begins with the unmistakable voice of Dr Steven Boyes, the scientific director of the Wild Bird Trust and a founder of the Okavango Wilderness Project.

“I will do everything in my power to protect this place,” he says. And as the show progresses, Boyes’s devotion to the Okavango bleeds through, underlying every story.

Guardians of the River brings the audience along on an expedition to the Okavango, meeting the people and animals who rely on it and exploring the mystery and magic that can be found in places unknown.

Dr Steve Boyes on expedition. Image: Kyle Gordon.

The show is a mastery of the audio medium – taking one on a journey through a world that can only be heard is no small feat, but it is expertly executed.

“Covid-19 had us self-isolating a lot more and adventuring a lot less. This podcast series takes the listener on an adventure into the remote unknown, activating the imagination with immersive soundscapes and real issues,” says Boyes.

The birds chirp above you and the sound of oars laps through the water. One moment you press play, and in the next moment, you sit in a boat, allowing Costa’s narrative to navigate you through the terrain.

“We wanted to lean into everything that is profoundly unique in audio; from the legacy of oral stories passed around campfires and across generations, to the way sounds become 10 times louder in the dark,” says Cat Jaffee, the founder of House of Pod, who wrote, recorded and directed the series.

This feeling, of sitting around a campfire, hearing the wood crackle as it burns and spits sparks up into the night, envelopes the listener. It feels like home.

Dancer at Jedibe. Image: Thalefang Charles.

“In the final product, we channel the sounds of village daily life into the soundtrack and theme, and we weave the cultures, stories and languages of the Okavango in and out of the production,” Jaffee says.

This is the magic of audio storytelling, and the creators have tapped into their individual strengths to deliver a product that is truly enchanting.

An excerpt from Guardians of the River. Audiogram by Headliner, and supplied by the Wild Bird Trust.

The podcast is a celebration of this precious and vital piece of the world, but is also a warning: If we do not take care of it, this is what we have to lose.

“I think the future is dark, environmentally speaking, and radical change is required to steer us away from a total and complete extermination of critical and vulnerable animal species. I think forests worldwide are in grave danger, and I think human causes are setting the stage for dramatic climate upsets that endanger every one of us,” Jaffee warns.

“We are currently set on a path to a very discouraging future, and we need to veer hard. We all must do something, flex whatever power we have, and protect the world around us.

“Stories like Guardians of the River are a good start for exposing the socio-historical and political complexity of an important environment that is very easy to love. And the more concrete stories of these places that we are invested in, the more we will vote and fight like they are on the line.”

Dr Steven Boyes on expedition. Image: Supplied

And when we embrace these lessons, there is the first glimmer of hope for our planet.

“I cannot imagine a future without Africa’s wild places. This is the stuff of dreams. The deep, dark woods, the deep blue sea, the unforgiving wilderness, the great unknown. Megafauna, prehistory, magic and mysticism, and wildlife. I can see a path to a future for 10 billion people living longer, better, healthier and wiser in harmony with nature and surrounded by abundance. To get there, we need to reintegrate people into protected areas and bring wildlife back into our urban areas,” Boyes says.

This year, the podcast won a Jackson Wild Award in the Podcast Category, after recently winning Best Narrative Nonfiction Podcast Award at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. Not only is this a triumph in the audio storytelling world, but a testament to the desire for authentic stories coming out of Africa.

These are stories that not only deserve to be told, but must be told. We must do everything in our power to protect this place. DM/ML

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