BRIGHTENING A DARK PLACE.

Author:Larsson, Naomi
Position:Arts & Culture
 
FREE EXCERPT

Kenya's award-winning rap artist, Octopizzo grew up in the poverty and squalor of Nairobi's largest slum. But having made good, he has not turned his back on his birthplace, returning to give hope and encouragement to others. Naomi Larsson tells the inspiring story.

Henry Ohanga stands on the disused railway track overlooking the vast Kibera slum in west Nairobi. Tinny music blares out from makeshift shacks selling food and electronics as children in ragged school uniforms stare at him in awe, whispering 'Octopizzo' to one another.

The 30-year-old Kenyan rapper and activist can't move for 10 minutes without being stopped to a handshake or photograph. Ohanga, better known for his stage name Octopizzo, is one of the biggest hip hop artists in Kenya. Since he released his first mixtape over a decade ago, his success has boomed.

Octopizzo's second album LDPC, released in 2015, was the first Kenyan record to reach the top of the iTunes album charts. A single released in August last year was downloaded a million times in a day. Over the years he's collaborated with international artists such as US duo Dead Prez and British rapper Black Twang, and has worked as a youth ambassador for UNHCR and the British Council.

But he is more than a celebrity in this part of Nairobi. Ohanga was born and raised in Kibera, the country's largest slum. He spent over 20 years of his life here, and still comes back each week to see friends and family. Kibera is in everything he does--his music, his social work.

"Kibera made me who I am today. I've travelled but there's nowhere I've ever felt [a] community embrace and genuine love, more than here," Ohanga says. "There's nowhere else that's really important for me."

Dressed in a sharp tracksuit, polo shirt and with gold hoops in is ears, Octopizzo certainly looks the part of the award-winning artist he has become. But Kibera remains a part of his identity, influencing his songwriting and his work in the community. Ohanga founded a creative youth group in Kibera, YGB (Young, Gifted and Black), and throughout his career he's worked to give a voice to disadvantaged young people from Kibera.

He squints through his blue-tinted glasses as we stand together overlooking the expansive slum. Covering around 250 hectares, at least 200,000 people live here --although some estimates suggest the figure could be up to 800,000. Poverty is widespread and many people survive on less than one dollar a day.

Ohanga is open and honest about...

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