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

China Announces Corruption Probe into Senior Ex-Leader

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, being probed for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid