Graffiti Art in Kibera

*Click on a photo to scroll through the gallery.

Kibera may be one of the world’s largest slums, but there is always abundant beauty to be found in unexpected places. Recently, I opened my eyes to the graffiti art around my neighborhood and I have become enthralled by its expression of creativity. Last week I set out with my camera to capture as much as I could, resulting in the images above.

As you can see, much of the art incorporates a message of peace which is likely born out of the horrific 2007 and 2008 post-election violence that crippled Kibera and the nation of Kenya as a whole. In fact, I found most of the graffiti in and around old structures that were burned down during this time and never rebuilt. My neighborhood saw the worst of the post-election violence. After capturing these photos, I did a little digging in order to find out more about Kibera’s most prominent graffiti artists whose tags I found. Some of them include Solo 7, Bank Slave, Gomba, and two guys that call themselves Maasai Mbili. These young men are establishing art camps for children, running art galleries inside the slum, speaking at conferences, and even traveling the world to share their talents. They were all born and raised in Kibera, and have lived through the community’s best and worst times. To them, it seems, graffiti art is not a form of vandalism or simply a hobby, but rather an expression of peace, justice, and a way to share their message with the whole world.

To learn more about Kibera’s graffiti art, visit: www.StreetArtOnTheRun.org and click on “Kibera.”

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Kenya is My D.J.

One of my favorite things about life in Kenya is the music. It’s loud, it’s good, and it’s everywhere. As I leave my house each morning, I walk along the busy dirt roads in my neighborhood filled with people on their way to work, school children in uniform, and ladies wrapped in beautiful fabrics selling mandazi hot out of the oil. The first thing I hear is music, which resounds from the small shops that line the road. I arrive at the bus stop and music rings from the matatu as I climb inside. Sometimes the bass is so loud that I feel as though my head might burst. Other times my ears are tickled by smooth, soft beats.

At language school, which is attended by students from all over the world, we break though language barriers with music. During tea breaks we play music on our phones as we sing along to the sounds. In Kiswahili class, we learn traditional songs and dances from our teacher when verb tenses become too tiresome. As I board the bus to return to Kibera, more music. When I get home, there are music videos playing on television, which get the kids dancing around the living room and keep my host sister entertained as she cooks ugali. Enter almost any home in Nairobi and you’ll hear music playing. Even Nakumatt (Nairobi’s version of Super Target) and Java House (Nairobi’s version of Starbucks) have a fantastic mix of music playing at all times. And of course, no social activity is complete without a DJ.

The style of music heard throughout each day varies greatly, and much of it comes from local radio. In Nairobi, there is a station dedicated to every music genre imaginable and commercials are rarely played. The most popular styles tend to be Kenyan hip-hop and pop (and some from other parts of Africa like Uganda and Nigeria), reggae and dancehall, as well as some American music. But by far the most frequently heard music style is Christian Kenyan hip-hop, simply referred to as Gospel.  And I can’t get enough of it. The hooks are catchy, the beats are loud, and the dances are delightful. Nearly every song has an accompanying music video, which give viewers a good sense of popular clothing styles here in Nairobi – like neon colors, soccer jerseys, skinny jeans and beaded jewelry.

These songs aren’t just reserved for Sunday mornings; they are so popular that they’re played in night clubs, matatus and churches alike. Here are three of my favorites. Bet you’ll get addicted too :)

“My Call” – MOG featuring Juliani (I saw Juliani at Java House the other day and must admit I was a little starstruck…)

“Furi Furi Dance” – Jimmie Gait

“Mmmh Baba” – Kris