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

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Five-Nation Tour to Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of state will visit Egypt, Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam to discuss security issues, Iran nuclear deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership 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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs