The week in audio: Love, Janessa; The Comb; Arctic Monkeys: Believe the Hype and more

A global catfish scam and a Somalian woman’s adolescence make for two gripping World Service shows, while Sheffield’s finest still sound good on the dancefloor

Love, Janessa (BBC World Service) | BBC Sounds
The Comb (BBC World Service) | BBC Sounds
Arctic Monkeys: Believe the Hype (BBC Radio 1) | BBC Sounds
Stopping to Notice with Miranda Keeling (Fresh Air Production) | Apple podcasts
A Kiss (BBC Radio 4) | BBC Sounds

Love, Janessa is an intriguing, heartbreaking, follow-the-scam catfish show produced for the World Service and Canadian public broadcaster CBC. There are elements of Sweet Bobby here, with an online lover – the catfish – pretending to be someone they’re not, and a besotted innocent believing that they’re in a real long-term relationship. But what’s really gripping, and introduced gradually, cleverly, by presenter Hannah Ajala, is that there’s not just one lovelorn victim. Actually, hundreds of people seem to have fallen for a single woman. Janessa Brazil: a real, living person, an actor/internet model.

Of course it isn’t actually her. The various catfish just use her photo; her picture has been reproduced so often in these scams that she’s practically a meme. Brazil’s beautiful face and swishy hair have become a go-to cover for rip-off merchants who drain people of their savings. How? Well, the not-real Brazil lures a lonely man (almost always a man) via social media. There’s sweet chit-chat, then some flirtation, followed by money requests – for car repairs, to mend a broken phone. Gradually, the amounts become larger. A familiar story, and the ruse doesn’t always work. In the first episode (of seven) we meet a worldly British journalist who isn’t about to splash his savings on a virtual person. Instead, he tries to track down the real Janessa Brazil, with interesting, slightly hilarious results. But in episode two we hear from Roberto, a lovely eco-entrepreneur from Sardinia, who has spent more than $250,000 on someone he thinks is called Hanna – who has, yes, Brazil’s face. Things become complicated when Roberto watches the real-life Brazil on a live video link, then just misses her at airport arrivals. Is it really her he’s been talking to?

Ajala is based in London and Ghana, and she’s on Brazil’s trail, seeing if all these scams are connected to established online fraud networks based in Ghana and Nigeria. There are layers upon layers upon layers. Is Brazil herself in on the act? Does she have any idea what’s going on? This sympathetic, impeccably researched show finds out.

Kim Chakanetsa of the ‘human, eye-opening’ The Comb
Kim Chakanetsa of the ‘human, eye-opening’ The Comb. Photograph: Denis Robinson

The Comb, another World Service offering, is a regular show that has more than 80 episodes in the bank. Made by BBC Africa, it gives African people the space to tell their own stories; we’re three episodes into the new series. The first episode, The Promise, interesting and moving, featured Vernyuy, from Cameroon, and her efforts to get a Berlin museum to return an important Cameroonian statue of Ngonnso, queen mother of the Nso kingdom. The statue was taken from the Nso community, “in colonial context, under violent circumstances and under unequal power relations”, 120 years ago. Many had tried before Vernyuy to get it back, with no success. In the next episode, Who Is Shebeleza?, based in Namibia, we hear from a sexist comedian, confronted by an outraged teacher worried about his influence on teenagers. And in Mogadishu’s Daughter, out last week, the story is that of presenter Kim Chakanetsa’s work colleague, Aisha. Aisha is a Somalian who moved to Uganda when she was a teenager; she tells the tale of her childhood. Each episode is human, relatable, eye-opening. The World Service has upped its game over the past decade, moving from slightly straightforward documentaries to maximise its unique and well-established links with the global south. It manages to reckon with its colonial history while offering opportunities for talented hosts and producers from across the world, and I find myself turning to it more and more.

Sometimes a band arrives fully formed; every song a banger, every gig a riot. Arctic Monkeys were like that, and a great new eight-part BBC Sounds/Radio 1 series relives the sense of the excitement when they exploded on to the music scene. Arctic Monkeys: Believe the Hype follows their first, massively successful album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. There are interviews with John Cooper Clarke, Richard Hawley, Yungblud and Jordan Stephens, plus various at-the-gig music journalists giving a real feel for the time. Singer Kate Nash presents, and the band’s brilliant music is woven throughout. It’s like a blast for the senses; a clarion call.

Arctic Monkeys in 2005.
‘Fully formed’: Arctic Monkeys in 2005. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer

More sensual are the short, surround-sound podcasts from Miranda Keeling, a writer whose Twitter and Instagram feeds offer fleeting observations of the world around her, like tiny meditations. Her podcast, Stopping to Notice, does the same but with sound: I prefer it. Keeling’s voice, which reminds me a bit of Josie Long, is welcoming and her eye is acute. A short walk along Blackstock Road in north London to the sound of a nearby Arsenal game is an auditory rollercoaster; a wander round a hidden park reveals a bench plaque to business show-off Digby Jones (Keeling doesn’t seem to know who he is, which I liked). It’s wonderful stuff.

Even more sensual – you could even say saucy – was last week’s one-off Radio 4 documentary A Kiss, which exquisitely explored that most intimate of acts through speaking to three poets: Fleur Adcock, Richard Scott and Caroline Bird. Producer Eleanor McDowall’s soundwork was close-up – we heard papers rustling, the intake of breath – while Rachel Long’s presentation was sensitive and intelligent. All three poets spoke beautifully, and Adcock’s and Bird’s poems were gorgeous. But it was a lengthy ode by Scott’s, a description of kissing a statue, that truly thrilled. Sexy, unexpected, a bit ridiculous, a bit risky – like all the best kisses.


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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