News / Arts & Entertainment

Kenya Hip Hop Artist Remembers His Roots

24 year-old Henry Ohanga, also known as Octopizzo, may be one of Kenya's fastest-rising hip hop stars
24 year-old Henry Ohanga, also known as Octopizzo, may be one of Kenya's fastest-rising hip hop stars

Multimedia

Henry Ohanga, otherwise known as "Octopizzo," is one of Kenya's hottest hip hop artists. He says his most satisfying work is helping fellow youth in Nairobi's so-called "informal settlement" of Kibera to turn away from drugs and crime and instead make a living from their talents.  

Born and raised in Kibera, Octopizzo started a youth self-help group called "Young, Gifted and Black" to help members develop their singing, dancing, and other abilities.  And he has also created a tour company and a business that sells T-shirts and watches to fund the group.

Octopizzo may be one of Kenya's fastest-rising hip hop stars, but Henry Ohanga will never forget where he came from - Kibera, one of Africa's largest informal settlements.

And he says he is taking his fellow Kiberians along for the ride. "You have the ideas and the networks that you have for everybody to get something, for everybody to get an air time. So that’s how I work," he explained.

24 year-old Henry Ohanga is Kibera's jack-of-all trades. He is best known by his stage persona Octopizzo, which he created before cutting his first CD in 2008. But while producing his second CD one year later, Octopizzo remembered the friends he lost touch with after the country's post-election violence and the many Kibera youth traumatized by the experience.

To bring healing and development to his community, Octopizzo set up "Young, Gifted and Black," a group in which members train to be singers, dancers, poets, artists, and athletes. "The idea was just to use art to change the youths,” he said. “Nowadays you can't go and preach to a youth and tell him, change or you will not get to heaven - they don't care. The youths want to be entertained first, then you put yourselves in their level and you share the same stories that they are going through."

As he teaches young people rap and other skills, Octopizzo drills into his students the importance of education and living a drug- and crime-free life.

"We call it 'edutainment' - you educate as you entertain. As you educate and entertain, you should be professional. You should go to school. Hip hop is not for people who are drop-outs. I tell them every day, 'Don't think that if you drop out of school, you can rap.'"
And that approach has made all the difference to hip hop singer Slum Dog, who used to do drugs and steal. Kibera is perceived to be a very bad place - violent, dirty place, people robbing people and all that. But we as youths and YGB (Young Gifted and Black) crew, we are reformed. We used to be bad guys, most of us, and now we're trying to live a better life. We are transformed," said Octopizzo.

Octopizzo had his own demons to battle. Orphaned in secondary school, Octopizzo turned to his musical talents to support his four brothers and sisters. He says he first sold his music for $1 a CD.

"I was just networking as much as I can, trying to record my music and sell them everywhere, selling them for cheap just to get more funds and then that's when I can raise it when I already have more funds," said Octopizzo said.  

He says his greatest joy is to recognize and nurture talent among the youth of his community.

Octopizzo says, despite the grinding poverty, there is a lot of creativity and goodwill in Kibera and other informal settlements. "People are living there, people are working hard, and every house, outside the house somebody is doing something in the streets. Nobody is just sitting, crying that they are poor," he said.

He denounces hip hop lyrics that glorify violence, sexism, racism, and other social ills. He says that most people living in Kibera have experienced violence first-hand and are looking for a different way to live.

Octopizzo says he plans to expand Young, Gifted and Black to other informal settlements in Nairobi.

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

"Soul Lounge" host Shawna Renee catches up with soul singer and songwriter Russell Taylor to hear what he’s been up to since winning the VH1 "You Oughta Know" title in 2013. She also convinces him to share a few songs from his album "War of Hearts."