Kilio Cha Haki means “A cry for justice”, and that’s exactly what the members of the 38 strong collective from Nairobi are expressing on this album. Based in the Eastlands district of Nairobi in Kenya, Nairobi Yetu sing about their lives and the struggles they face – from poverty, crime and drugs to AIDS and even political corruption.
It makes a refreshing change to hear rap and hip-hop being used to promote lifestyles other than the ‘bling-bling’ gangster style. However, there is a danger that this could all sound unbearably worthy – world music does tend to conjure up visions of patronising middle-class people sipping tall lattes while nodding their heads along to the latest tribal beat.
Kilio Cha Haki is different though. Firstly, buying the album will actually make a difference to the impoverished of the Eastlands ghetto. All proceeds from the sale of the album will go towards the creation of a permanent music studio in Eastlands, giving the youth of the district a chance to express themselves creatively and to be involved in something positive. Equally importantly, the music contained within the disc is superb.
The lyrics here are mostly (although by no means exclusively) in African, but the excellent sleevenotes describe the meaning of each song and how it relates to the group’s life. Fanya Tena tells the story of broken dreams in the ghetto, set to a thumping percussive beat. The following Sisi employs a human beatbox accompanied by a broken guitar with just three strings – bizarrely, there are even echoes of Blur‘s Gene By Gene on this track.
Perhaps the most commercial track here is All Over The World, a wonderfully slinky number featuring New York’s RhaGoddess. The English and African lyrics mix seamlessly, and RhaGoddess is on sparkling form. It’s reminiscent of Spearhead or Arrested Development, and given some radio airplay could easily become a big hit.
Other highlights here include Mama We, with its terrifically jazzy piano riff running through the song, 24/7, which mixes righteous anger at politicians of all parties with some truly cool beats and rapid fire rapping that would put Eminem to shame, the uplifting Sefue and the more traditional African sounds of Pesa Pesa. Perhaps the standout though is Got Drama, an attack on globalisation which namechecks Bill Gates, before melting into a gorgeously sung chorus.
Although there are a few weak points here (the spoken word interludes tend to break up the flow of the album), it would be churlish to criticise when both the cause and music are this good, especially when you learn the entire album was recorded in just one month in a temporary recording studio. It’s a sterling achievement – hopefully if enough people can hear this album, we’ll be hearing a lot more from the talented crew from Nairobi.