Urban youth artists explore talent to address poverty and hunger  

By Clifford Akumu

At the periphery of Dandora Phase Six Estate, Nairobi County sits a one story building punctuated with breath-taking graffiti murals, where artists meet to sharpen their lyrical flow and engage in youth empowerment.

Not even the pungent smell of the nearby dumpsite or the occasional thrust of the filthy Nairobi River interrupt the urban artists’ flow from expressing their feelings about injustices in the country.

The story building houses Dandora Hip Hop City, a brainchild of decorated Gospel hip hop siren Julius Owino commonly known as Juliani, arguably the greatest treasure in the midst of garbage for urban youth.

At the centre, upcoming and established artists are accorded free space to freestyle rap on issues that affects them. Sometimes it’s about love. Sometimes it’s about life. And, this time it was about the politics of food in Kenya.

Inside the hall, several urban artists congregate in small groups humming melodic tunes as they put final touches on their messages on food injustices in the country.

One such is Veryl Akinyi, a talented Nakuru Town-based rapper who embraced the genre four years ago.

Akinyi,23, explains that most of her messages tackle gender equality issues.

And so, she explains, crafting a message for a cypher on food insecurity was a good opportunity to cast wide her lyrical net.

She never disappointed her fans.

“I want to prove to people that female rappers are also good and should never be underestimated. When I heard about the cypher on food injustices, I accepted the challenge,” says Akinyi who is also a graduate of Food and Beverage Management.

The soft spoken queen of rhymes says there is need to put more effort in enlightening the rural about food rights.

To stay healthy, you need a healthy diet” …. reads part of her rap, a situation she reckons is total mirage to people living in rural areas.

“There are people who doesn’t know their food rights even though it is enshrined in the constitution, and so in my message I am telling those involved to enlarge the advocacy initiatives to cover up to the remote villages” explains Akinyi.

The initiative that uses the arts, is geared towards encouraging members of the public to engage on issues of food security from a political perspective, says Layla Liebetrau Project Lead, Route to Food Initiative.

She adds, holding a cypher will give a voice to urban youth about food injustices in the county by putting lyrics to the lack of political accountability and ongoing struggle to put food on the table especially in major households within urban centres.

“This is a free space where people can talk about the problem of hunger and chronic food insecurity in Kenya. And the youth are able to share their experiences, ideas and what they think is the solution to the problems,” says Liebetrau.

Richmond Atunga, who discovered hip hop music at a very early age, tailored his message on how bad governance has fuelled food shortage.

In a deep and rich voice, Atunga expresses how to obtain a healthy mind, one needs a healthy body.

“It so hard to tell someone to go to school to get knowledge on an empty stomach. Our leaders have entrenched bad governance to an extent that instead of food surplus we always have chronic shortage all year round” he explains as he raps part of his message during the interview.

The 28-year-old rapper started making headways in early 2010 while studying at the University of Nairobi when he joined and performed under the Kalimani group.

“I found hip hop a special genre compared to other genres of music because of the messages it passed, for example on political activities, equality and justice,” narrates Atunga.

In one of his lines he notes: “Kabla tuwaze juu ya vision 2030, lazima tulete food kwa meza…. (before thinking about vision 2030, let’s put on the table….”

“When I heard that Route to Food was championing food rights and since most of my songs involve positive messages, I had to get involved in the initiative” he adds.

While Article 43 in the Constitution of Kenya recognises the right to adequate food, national legislation, policy and practice have failed in implement and monitor progressive solutions to food security.

“The right to food and nutrition security is dictated in the Kenya’s constitution, despite that, there seems to be laxity by consecutive governments in solving this problem” she said

“What we aim to achieve with this initiative is to get people to ask questions. Is it benefiting some people to have chronic hunger always? Why are we always being reactive to this problem, blaming climate change, pesticides”?

Juliani explains that food rights issues stem from urban dwellings.

“Every time we hear issues of food rights mentioned, we only think of refugee camps yet it is right here with us. As artist we need to make our voices heard by joining the struggle against hunger through music,” says the Gospel artist.

Interestingly, Liebetrau notes that there is no single bullet to fix chronic food and nutrition security and solving poverty and hunger.

She further reckons that collaborative effort between different actors is needed in addressing the issue of chronic food insecurity in the country.

“We need to have conversations with all the actors; in agriculture, health and the youth in order to tackle the issue. Food rights need to be a priority to all policy makers,” she explains.

Another opportunity, she continues, that hold a silver lining in tackling the menace is devolution.

“With a lot of the functions now devolved, the country is presented with a great opportunity in addressing the issue of chronic food insecurity,” she concludes.

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