Smokillah is a graffiti artist based in Nairobi. He is a member of the group of graffiti artists knowna s Spray Uzi. Check out his video interview at Spray for Change.
You can read more about graffiti in Kenya at Kibera Walls for Peace and Kibera Hamlets. Here’s an article on Kenya’s graffiti train and a video (about the use of graffiti to comment on the 2013 election process).
1. Where are you from, What was it like growing up?
2. What kind of hustles were people involved in?
3. How did you start doing graffiti? How did you learn to do graffiti? What does graffiti mean to you? How do you see it fitting in with hip hop?
I started doing graffitism on (PSV Matatu) after high school, Graffity just came to me and started practising alot with the spray can. Graffiti is spiritual Art. It always fits because the artforms go together. Rappers have been doing graffity backgrounds since the 80’s
4. What is ‘politicking’?
Most probably talking about stuff that builds you as a person
5. What is ‘mental slavery’?
Being entrapped by your thoughts that misguide you
6. Do you have a philosophy of education?
You can learn everything so its up to you if you want to or not
7. You mention in your Spray for Change interview that you “do things that other people are scared of doing or are not interested in.” What sources do you draw inspiration from? Are there any sources that you think would surprise people?
My inspiration comes from my surrounding am a product of my environment ‘’african Nostalgia’’
8. Where do you see people having “space to express themselves”? Are there any organizations/communities that you see building these kinds of spaces?
There’s lots of space especially in the city centre these buildings have space but the Nairobi Council has put up billboards for profit. It sad don’t you think?
9. How do you feel graffiti art is different from other forms of visual art?
Style! In a major way, grafitti has class other forms of visual art are just that visual art
10. How do you think the placement of graffiti in public spaces, rather than in galleries or wherever, changes the nature and politics of graffiti?
Banksy said ‘’if you do graffiti indoors that’s interior design’’ so graffity is for walls
11. Graffiti, by nature, being in public spaces, how does you, as an artist, feel about the art being out there for the public to see, welcome or unwelcome? What makes you decide to put graffiti where you do?
I feel good about because we do the artform not just for us as writers but for the public also meaning they don’t have to go to galleries to see art. We bring the art work to them
12. Also understanding many times graffiti is also welcomed by people, please talk about what kind of agreements you have with people who willingly allow you to do graffiti where they live/work, etc.
Who supports the work you are doing?
We often agree on excecution, meaning the job has to come out well and how long the job eill and will finish within the period of time we agreed upon
Different people suprisingly cooperate.
13. Do you find yourself a target of police harassment? What would you say to people who see graffiti as “visual terrorism”?
Definitely. I even think I’m being followed around but am not sure. Its just phobia for the artform. Graffiti strikes minds and thoughts provoke
14. How do politics and your own personal values impact your work?
Politics is just a dirty game and so my work keeps values in every vice that surrounds me.
15. What is “tagging”? How is it different from graffiti art or murals?
Is part of the art form. When a writter passes an open area he’ll definitely want to leave a mark and that is his/her graffity name tagging is done quick, rural pieces may take days or weeks
The biggest role is improvement
17. Do you see graffiti art as a possible way to re-vitalize, beautify, and/or support local communities?
Definately, Grafiiti has a strong essence and where we do it we definately touch souls. Its just a way of letting communities know we can do better
18. What’s a place you would love to work on but haven’t had an opportunity to yet? (Is there any public space you would love to create graffiti for if you had the chance?)
Any or one of the billboards on the city centre
19. Could you talk about the “Unga Revolution”?
It is basically about food scarcity, and food is expensive in supermarkets so its pressing the government to regulate prices.
20. Is there a language, or languages, associated with graffiti art? Or could you talk about different styles and approaches to graffiti art you have seen?
The language used is style. I think even writer has a style to be able to communicate to fellow writers where he is at and his craft
21. Could you talk about different historical figures you see being repeated in Graffiti art, and talk a little about their significance?
Mahatma ghandi, Haille selasie they were figures who inspire free spirits and as a writer I should be free to express myself at any given time.
22a. How do you see graffiti art in dialogue with public spaces? Do you see graffiti art re-imagining public spaces, or otherwise creatively engaging with them?
Definitely, as I said graffity strikes minds so where else than public places to strike public minds
22b. Is graffiti only for urban spaces? Where are some unusual places you have encountered graffiti?
Mostly because graffity is street art and upcountry folks have no idea what paint can do. Most only in nairobi streets
23. Are you part of any graffiti organizations?
Only spray uzi, I think we are legends period. We try to give graffiti a good name but we still kick street places and tags now Cooperate organizations are interested in us because of our principals and all.
24. How are graffiti artists making money from their work today?
Contract jobs, Mostly commisioned jobs from difffernt institutions cooperate companies known restaurants, churches and graffiti enthuasusts
25. Who else do you see ‘doing’ hip hop, other artists, deejays, dancers, activists, hustlas, etc.? How are you coming together with these different varieties of hip hop’s people?
Mostly we get together at hip hop gigs in and around the city where hip hop is more vibrant and where it is vital
26. What are some obstacles you have encountered during your involvement in the arts/activist scene(s)?
None, its been smooth because we are protected.
27. How have women contributed to graffiti art in East Africa? (name, if you know of any artists or supporters of graffiti, etc.)
Not so much, there are a few but I mostly they get on but fall of quick
28. Could you describe some positive things you have seen hip hop communities doing? Whether it is artists sharing resources, a place to stay, getting linked with work
Mostly links like judge hooked us up and am a graffity writer he’s a rapper. So yeah and resources too. We work together as a company
29. What hustles are you working on now? is there such a thing as hip hop jobs? ama only hustling? (Talk about any of your projects, visual arts-based or otherwise) What sort of opportunities has the graffiti world provided you with?
I don’t hustle no more, Spray uzi alredy established , we got people for that, what are hip hop jobs getting that cooperate money for sure.
30. What are some of the obstacles/problems facing young people in Kenya today (zote, Lodwar to Dando to Westi?)
Unemployement, platforms to discover their inner abilities i.e resource centres
31. How are you interacting with artists across the globe and also particularly in East Afrika?
Social media is a big contributor e.g Facebook
32. What sort of positive things do you see happening with young people in Kenya?
Creativity is the most powerful weapon youths have right now.
33. How can people learn more about your work and other projects you are involved in?
am a pro graffiti artist have been in the art for about ten years noe, My crew is spray uzi, One of the most Prolific crews in Nairobi
Gas Fyatu is a writer, entrepreneur and emcee from Nairobi. He is a member of the rap groups Ukoo Flani Mau Mau and Moshikali. You can find his music on reverbnation, youtube and soundcloud. His writing can be found in Kwani? published by Kwani Trust. Peep his poems. He is also on twitter.
[Kevlexicon made typographical edits]
Where are you from, What was it like growing up?
Dandora I grew up in Nairobi eastland inner city dandora, growing was
normal life for ghetto childrens with parents working in industrial
What kind of hustles were people involved in?
In dandora there were all sort of small business, small kiosks, selling
scrap metals, matatu touts, vegetable vendors, mandazi and chapatti or
roadside. basically hawkers everywhere
What was the Mau Mau camp like? (Is it still in operation?)
Mau mau camp was born on the alleys of dandora by youth with a love
for hip hop music and yearning for a change. There was so much police
harassment and unemployment rate was very high. We found solace in
music and formed a street family, unlike the freedom fighters with guns
and spears, we decided to use microphones and pencils as missiles to
fight for change and to decolonize minds. Mau mau became a hub for
art, football acrobatics and rehabilitation, and it spread all over.
Maumau still exist as know east African movement called
ukooflanimaumau with members all over east Africa cities and towns.
What does hip hop mean to you, What motivated you to become involved
in Hip Hop?
I loved music and drama from a tender age. In high
school, I was composing poems in Swahili and competed up to the
national levels. Meanwhile, while I was still in school, kalamashaka
were taking Kenya with their single “tafsiri hii” so when I cleared high
school I joined mau mau camp which was a street hang out for people
with a love for conscious music. Edutainment- precisely. So to me hip
hop is a way of life, a positive way of life; preaching peace, love, and
I use the hip hop platform to pass positive messages to the community
and spread love and preach peace. Through hip hop, I got independence
to highlight [the] social, political and economic environment in my hood and
country. Hip hop is the voice of the African youth, it is the ray of
light for an Africa youth facing struggle out of poverty and freedom.
Hip-Hop’s impact origins date back as far as late 80’s, the fire was
burning in Tanzania. Groups like Kwanza Unit, Hard Blasters, The
Diplomatz, Mr 2. In the 90’s Kenya rap scene flourished. Pioneering
groups like Kalamashaka, K-South, Fundi Frank and Cash D set the scene
using their vernacular language to win the hearts of many. Similar
growth was happening in Kampala, with groups like, Kado based in
Sweden and Klear kut. DJ’s took their stand like Dj Pinye, Dj Adrian,
Skratchaholics, the homeboyz, setting their wheels of steel blazing
with creativity. B-boys grabbed the stage too. Kenyans took graffiti
to another level by using public service vehicles as their canvas, known as the
matatu culture. [Note: Matatu’s are the cheapest form of public transportation. Matatus are minibuses that are often colorfully decorated with the likenesses of hip hop artists and celebrities. Inside, you can hear the video mixtapes put together by college students.]
Hip hop made such a proud stand that the political scene used the music to prosper the presidential campaign. African youth can, in one voice (through hip hop), air [the] social, political climate in their societies. Hip hop is culture, a way of life and is represented by: [rap] Emceeing, Dj-ing, graffiti arts, Break dance and street
entrepreneurship. The above elements have effectively taken shape in
Kenya, the underground art has no space in the mainstream media; when
many youth are busy involving themselves crime and the drugs, we have
these creative artists who spend days, months and even years either
painting, designing, composing, and putting their creativity at work
and when they are done, they hit the street hawking their art and most
of the time they fall in the hands of people who do not appreciate
art and are just interested in the monetary gains.
Hip-hop, I feel is being marketed by multi-nationals to work to the
benefit of their pockets. Although they have financial advantage over
us, we on the other hand have people power globally and with
networking ability to change the power of the status quo
hip-hop is a culture and way of life!
When you live hip-hop, you become hip-hop. Below we display 5 main
elements of Hip-hop:
This is awareness of self, about who you are, being independent
minded, individualism, acceptance of self. Being ‘real’ and ‘true’ to
This was a street level form of communication (although recently it
has now become a major [form]) of relaying a message with clever use of
flowing words, poetry and rhyming.
An innovative form of creating music from sampling and cutting and
scratching records to form a style of music initially unique only to
4. Break dancing
This is an art of dancing composed of movements, which makes the dancer
look like he is literally breaking. It comprises of many
[movements] such as bopping, waves, body spins and is also incorporated with
Capoeira another form of dance expression who’s origins came from
slaves who spent their time with their hand and feet chained and used
it as a way to exercise/dance/fight (while chained) without being
discovered; for neither of the above were allowed and a death penalty
would follow if one was discovered practicing any of them.
5. Graffiti art
This was the underground visual way of relaying messages by spraypainting public spaces, like street walls, in a colorful artistic form and style with illustrations and special scriptures that [were] only understood by hip hop’s people.
What type of community organizations, informal or formal are helping
vijana in Nairobi leo?
Young people have formed groups and are taking loans from banks to do
small business as for community organisations. i know mathare
youthsports association and ukooflanimaumau.
Ekori Turkana is a hip hop and ethnic fusion artist from the Turkana District in Northwestern Kenya.
[Turkana District is a drought-afflicted region in Kenya that hosts the Kakuma refugee camp. The Turkana people have been systematically underdeveloped and discriminated against by the Kenyan government. International aid organizations operating in the region have failed to allow the host community and refugees to integrate successfully into a working community. Basic infrastructure is lacking or insufficient. On top of that, there is the IDP situation (displaced persons fleeing ethnic violence). You can read more about the Kakuma refugee camp in Ekuru Aukot’s chapter, “It is better to be a refugee than a Turkana in Kakuma.”]
Interview and translation by Jaymo Kusini, questions by Kevlexicon.
Where are you from, What was it like growing up?
I was born in Turkana
south katilu, I was brought up in a harsh life… our area is semi
arid. war and violence between turkana, pokot, and merrille from
Ethiopia made us move from one place to another, and sometimes moving
to get pastures for animals. am an orphan too having lost parents at a
tender age, my father died during a war with pokots, it was survival to
get food and basic things. most of my age mates died, and when finally
mother died life became so hard. uncle and relatives made it even
difficult. we did not know our future
Describe a memorable day in Katilu.
I remember one Saturday in katilu I met a person, and I was so hungry
and the stranger bought me bread.
What kind of hustles/kazi were people involved in?
There are no jobs in katilu and money came from selling mbuzi in
Lodwar, hustle in turkana is cow goats and camel
Who do you see helping out with the problems in Turkana (food crisis)
or anything else?
Since rainfall is small in turkana. Lake Turkana could be used for
irrigation, and also the government to promote drought resistant crops
and try discourage dependence on livestock. sometimes a drought
comes and all cow and goats die.
What do you see being mismanaged or abused?
Food donated by donors is sold by business people. Children attend
classes under trees, and they have to walk very far. schools are few.
Hospitals are few, bad roads . If the roads were made well business
would be good. CDF money is mismanaged. Turkana problems [are] used by
NGOS to make money
What can you tell us about the some of the conflicts between ethnic groups?
What I can say what’s makes us fight with pokots is because of
starvation, we fight for food, mostly if you look at pokot. They come
to raid our animals. Our only way of survival. …and a former MP lotodo
incited [these] wars. he died but what he started has continued to haunt
us, and revenges is order of the day. what I can say is this war can
only be stopped if young people preach peace
Who are your musical influences? For those who don’t speak Turkana,
please tell us what kind of issues your songs talk about?
What made me start singing was the things I have seen growing, the
problems, the good things, wars, cow, mbuzi. My music is inspired by
Turkana, and it is about peace and reconciliation between Pokot
Turkana and Merrille. Our music encourages us to stay as brothers and
also [talk about] other issues affecting us. [Encourage] children to go to school and leave guns. And to stay with love.
How did the move to Nairobi effect you?
I did not know Nairobi, when I came to Nairobi I realized people were
busy. i learned Swahili and my music talent got exposed, and after I
would go home and tell my people life is not to wear shukas. and wars. i
started mixing turkana and Swahili. Nairobi has inspired me and I
found people here were struggling and had problems.
What does hip hop mean to you, What motivated you to become involved in Hip Hop?
Hip music is music about truth .hip hop is true. you pass message to
people. hip hop is love and peace use hip hop to spread peace to my
What are some of the obstacles/problems facing young people in Kenya
today (zote, Lodwar to Dando to Westi?)
In turkana many youth have no jobs, and in turkana not many are
educated, and also in towns there is drugs and unemployment. People
have talent and skill. and sometimes turn to crimes. if there were
enough jobs there would be [presumably less] problems
What sort of positive things do you see happening with young people in Kenya?
CHINA has been making roads and bringing affordable things. I hope they
will also put roads in turkana. Kibaki has made some good changes, and
music is big and some people are getting jobs, artist are getting
platform and turkana now has oil and gold.
What is your hope for Kenya?
Youth, the young people
Wanajua – Man Njoro, Ekori Turkana, Checkmate Mido, & Fundi Frank
UNGA UNGA video with Audio Kusini.
Tumechoka video with Audio Kusini.