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

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead 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.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Paquito D'Rivera, who has won 12 Grammys, is celebrated both for his artistry in Latin jazz and his achievements as a classical composer. D'Rivera's latest project, “Jazz Meets the Classics,” was released this month. He joins us on the latest edition of "The Hamilton Live."