Juliani, Kenyan rapper and musician at the Dandora Hip Hop City Centre which he established to help young people from the area develop their music skills.
Music as a weapon to fight inequality
“…hatutaki upunguze bei ya bidhaa tunataka opportunities ndio tu afford hizo bidhaa… …Ufisadi, ubinafsi ukabila kuuza sura wataki kuuza sera Undugu nikufaana sitasimama maovu yakitawala siatasimama maovu yakitawala…” “…we don’t need the price of goods to go down…we want opportunities so that we can afford them… Corruption, selfishness, tribalism Our leaders sell to us their faces, not their policies Brotherhood is looking out for others I won’t stand while these ills continue to be perpetuated…”
These lyrics, from my song Utawala, are just a snapshot of the problems I see in Kenya today. Inequality, injustice, power, corruption. We live in a country where the richest Kenyan’s wealth is over $700 million, yet over 40% of the country’s 44 million people still live in poverty. These issues are real and something needs to be done. I’m proud of Utawala because through it, the message on inequality hit home with my people – ordinary people right across the country. I want to make Kenyans aware of the inequality we all see and encourage them to take a stand. This is what I try to achieve through my music.
For me, music should be about what you know, and aspiration - where you want to be. I was born in Dandora, a poor suburb of Nairobi where you can now find Kenya’s biggest dump site. Trash, thrown away by wealthier Kenyans, has been piling up in the estate for years and years. Growing up I didn’t know anything better. The only thing I knew was that it was home. Back then, the dump site was controlled. It was meant to be the rich part of Dandora, where people would buy big houses and own land. There was even a beautiful road through the middle. But those responsible didn’t protect it. Dandora became tough and the area is all covered with trash now.
There wasn’t hopelessness until we grew up. When you get older, you start asking questions. Why does that guy have a bike or this or that, and I don’t? Why it is that my parents have to sell our things? It was only after I left Dandora, and saw the injustice, that my eyes were opened. Once I knew what life was like for richer Kenyans, I started to care about inequality. It isn’t right that people can get to the top by stepping over and destroying people’s lives along the way.
One of the biggest inequality problems we face in Kenya today is that ordinary people don’t know their rights, so they can’t fight for them. Take taxes for example. The government gets its money largely from taxes. We need to know what these taxes are supposed to pay for. Taxes, although paid indirectly through VAT, should be spent on providing the services people need to thrive. Better schools, good quality hospitals, clean water, for example. So when millions of tax money gets lost, we need to ask questions. The big companies who actually need to pay their taxes are not paying it. Kenya continues to lose around $1 billion in revenue through all its unfair tax incentives. All types of companies, the guy in the suit, are trying to evade taxes. This is the information that we need to get out there so that people will understand.
In my music, I always aim to talk about the issues affecting Kenyans, with the hope that people will stand up and listen. We need to speak out, to let the people at the top know that we are watching and we care. That was why I established a ‘Hiphop City’ in Dandora. We encourage talented young people from Dandora to come and practice their music. We teach them discipline. If you are not disciplined, you will never know what your weaknesses are. Listen to your music, take your pen, write whatever comes to your mind. If you had a chance to visit the centre you would be amazed at the energy. We hope and pray that this place will be a beacon of that light.
Music breaks all barriers. It breaks political barriers. Music can change and transform lives. If I asked you to quote an entire speech, I’m sure you wouldn’t remember. You would only remember one word or two. But if I asked you the first hip hop song you ever heard, I am sure you could rap the whole verse without even thinking. That is how powerful music and hip hop is. Both poor people, and those who are not from poor areas like Dandora, are now interested in it. When I began performing, my music became so powerful because of the messages that I sent out from everyday experiences - that we don’t have water, we don’t have enough food. Our music, and our messages, have to help the people in the community first. Then we can get others, those with power, to listen too.
In Kenya, there are different levels of injustice. The most important thing that I want to communicate is that people have more power than they think they do. You have something to offer. You have you, it takes you. It is more about awareness of human rights, pushing people to be involved in politics and fighting the inequality we see in this country. We are not always talking against things, we are talking to create awareness so that people decide what they want to do. I want people to decide for themselves what they care about, and what needs to be done.
Link to Utawala song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xh9Ux7WH2KE
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