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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Matthew Wade sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his new CD, “Diamond from Coal,” his fourth album with his band, My Silent Bravery.