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

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora