Nairobi Yetu
Kilio Cha Haki (A Cry For Justice)

By Masta G

 
The poignant intro to Kilio Cha Haki sees MC Kinyanjui Anthony's assertion that 'I was born in the street, I was born in the slum' balance regret and celebration in equal measure. This keen sense of equilibrium – between native and outernational styles, an excess of talent and a shortage of resources, a profusion of voices and the need for a stage from which they can be heard – permeates the album, lending it an integrity and originality which is often missing from formulaic contemporary hip hop. The Dutch collective (UpToYouToo) behind the project installed a studio in Nairobi's notorious Eastlands ghetto and set to work with 54 artists from three continents to pull together an album which reflects the power of music as a means of expression for the disregarded and disenfranchised. As in many other outernational hip hop cultures, there is a conflict in Kenya between rapping in English and using indigenous languages (Swahili in this instance) and the tension between the two is evident in the mixture of Swahili, Kenyan patois and English which is audible on the LP.

The opening track Sisi has an affecting hook which was played on a one-stringed guitar and the addition of some powerful beat boxing and elegant rhymes prove that the most limited facilities are no barrier to inventiveness, or a sophisticated sense of funk. The polished singing of Brooklyn's Rha Goddess, who also turns in some penetrating rhymes, adds a poppy edge to All Over The World, a statement of global hip hop's vitality which deftly provides the evidence for its own argument: 'We're rollin thick like the Bible / quotin scriptures of survival / touchin masses upon arrival / hip hop is vital'. The subtle melodies of traditional Kenyan singing introduce Kilio, which touches on the ravages reaped by Aids within the rappers' world. Mama we has a similarly poignant feel thanks to its sung chorus, recalling Sizzla's Thank You Mama in its universal appeal.

While the album generally addresses 'reality' themes and the lyrics give a sense of the desperate circumstances in which many of the artists exist, the pleasure which they evidently take in making their music readily communicates itself. Pesa Pesa, a meditation on the significance of money in an impoverished society, has a lilting reggae vibe which counterpoints its pessimistic subject matter and 'confessions (of a gangsta)' has a meditative feel which could not be further removed from the cartoonish posturings of American rappers, many of whom seem to inhabit a ghetto of the mind while living in considerable luxury. Ironically, it is the cultural dominance of US hip hop which has enabled this adaptable and fluid musical style to migrate so readily, offering a medium for self expression and empowerment to the inhabitants of a Kenyan slum which resonates around the world. 'It's only you who can change yourself' urges the outro and Kilio Cha Haki testifies to the fact that all involved have boldly seized the opportunity to do so.
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