News / Africa

Kenyan Hip Hop Artists Praise Inspirational Town

An apartment is engulfed by toxic smoke from burning trash at Dandora waste site, one of Africa's biggest garbage dumps, in Nairobi, Kenya (Oct. 5, 2007 file photo)
An apartment is engulfed by toxic smoke from burning trash at Dandora waste site, one of Africa's biggest garbage dumps, in Nairobi, Kenya (Oct. 5, 2007 file photo)
Jill Craig
NAIROBI – Kenyan hip hop took off in the mid-1990s, when the group Kalamashaka started rapping in informal Swahili, instead of English. The musicians were from the low-income suburb, Dandora, which is now widely considered the birthplace and center of hip hop in the country. Kalamashaka started the Ukoo Flani Mau Mau movement, which has helped many other hip hop artists practice and perfect their craft in Dandora. In gratitude, many of them even rap “Dandora” in their lyrics, regardless of whether or not they live there.


Dandora is most notorious for hosting Kenya’s largest dump site. The area is riddled with crime, people scrape together a living, and life is generally difficult for residents. 

“It’s where hip hop was born in this country," explains Kevin Sisei, aka “Kev Mamba Mshamba Wenza,” a member of the group Washamba Wenza.  "Even you, you know, you have to respect your father. Your father brought you into this world. Before your father, you were not there, you were nothing. But your father brought you into this world. So, with us, Dandora is like, it’s our father.  It brought something to us, and this something, it’s kind of feeding us.”



Fellow group member, Flaming Avulala, or “Flamez,” was born and raised in Dandora.  He says like hip hop around the world, the Kenyan style deals with life struggles.

“It’s the life in Dandora, the hood. The hood itself, you know, it has a lot of problems," he says. "And [for the] guys, it was either, you do music, or you do something else or become a thug, because a lot of guys in Dandora are thugs…Dandora now is so much infected with cocaine and heroin and gangsters.”

 As one of the few female hip hop artists in Kenya, Lydia Akwabi, aka “L-NESS,” who has worked with Ukoo Flani Mau Mau since the mid-1990s, says she has always had to “act hard” to gain respect from the guys, especially in Dandora.  

“I’m saying it was a hip hop city, it was a crazy city, crime, and what have you," she explains. "But I could go there, and you know, I don’t know, maybe the guys just respected me or something. Nothing happened to me. I was never attacked, but I could go there, perfect my skills, hang out with them and hear what they’re all about, learn how to rap, you know, just free-styling, chilling out with the guys.”



Hip hop in Kenya does have some differences from its counterparts elsewhere. Here, artists are proud to say that they do not curse in their lyrics and they are not disrespectful toward women.

Franklin Milan, known as “Judge,” raps with his brother in the group Black Duo.

“Even if your mom is that harsh, you can’t curse your mama," he says. "Even if, let’s say, even like, calling ladies the ‘b-word,’ here in Kenya, it doesn’t work. Because this is Africa and we respect our women and our sisters and stuff like that.”

In a country that has experienced much violence in recent years, especially following the 2007 elections, Flamez says he and his fellow artists do not use their music to advocate for more.

“If you’re doing music that’s not inspiring someone or telling me something positive, to me, that’s really, really lame," he says. "Because music is something powerful. You should use it to empower, to uplift, to change someone’s life.”

Kenyan Hip Hop artist L-Ness (Trinity Promotions publicity photo)Kenyan Hip Hop artist L-Ness (Trinity Promotions publicity photo)
x
Kenyan Hip Hop artist L-Ness (Trinity Promotions publicity photo)
Kenyan Hip Hop artist L-Ness (Trinity Promotions publicity photo)
L-NESS says that even though life is difficult in Dandora and so many other slums in Kenya, young people should do something constructive instead of resorting to violence.

“But these guys do listen to our music. So if we tell them something positive, they’ll follow it, you know," she says. "You can tell them, don’t go take a gun, don’t go shoot somebody, do something. Start a project, start rapping, or start painting. We can tell them that in our music and they’ll do it.”

Kevin says even if they’re not from Dandora, Kenyan hip hop artists are grateful for what it has helped them become.

“I won’t feel very shy mentioning Dandora in some of my songs, I’m proud. Proud because it brought me, it has helped me so much,” he explains.

Washamba Wenza will release their second album From Ocha with Love in October. L-NESS will soon be launching her album, Gal Power! which is a collaboration with other female rappers in East Africa.

You May Like

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra 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.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid