By Max Bone
A photo of the groundbreaking Ugandan artist Keko. Photo from Flickr
In a May 2017 interview with the international news outlet PRI the Ugandan artist Keko was not afraid to speak out about who she is, and how she utilizes her popularity to advocate to issues that are of importance to her. At first, this does not come as a surprise at Hip-Hop is an outlet through which an individual expresses her own identity and tells one’s story. Yet, when examining the issues for which Keko advocates in this interview it becomes evident that she is advocating for some of the most marginalized groups in the country.
In the interview, she goes into detail about the process of writing her first single, titled “Alwoo,” which In English translates to “Cry for Help.” She goes into detail about what she is specifically trying to address in the song by saying “This is what happens, pretty much in Africa. With all the misogyny and women are not supposed to stand up or speak up. There was no song like that out, touching on this subject of domestic violence.” In short, she speaks of how she designed this song to be an outlet for Ugandan women who may have experienced domestic violence. She goes even further to say that while she has never personally experienced domestic violence, she knows many people who have. To that point, she notes that she knows women who fear retribution for speaking out, and therefore remain quiet.
In spite of her activism for women and encouraging Ugandan women to speak out in the case of domestic violence, the largest shock came later In the interview. In 2014, Uganda passed a law that harshly outlawed homosexuality, and same-sex marriage remains a punishable crime in the country today. Yet, this does not stop Keko from speaking out about the issue. In fact, in this interview she directly asked the PRI journalist if she wanted to speak about LGBTQI+ rights in Uganda. In an even further step, she said “I’m sure everybody in the entire country knows I’m gay,” going on to state “”They are probably still [in] denial, but I’m not. I speak on it because there are so many kids out there that are like that … people always have that notion where they say, ‘Oh, [being gay] is such a Western thing, they are copying it from the movies.’ So, I speak on it because people need to live freer lives. And this is Africa. So, there is still a lot of time before that happens. But if they can look back and be like, “Well, Keko was not afraid to be open about it and stand up for herself, then I can just be myself.” In short, Keko takes the bold move of being open about her sexuality, and In doing so offers a life-line of sorts to may members of the LGBTQI+ community of Uganda.
While the 2017 interview with PDI outlined to a international audience the groundbreaking work that Keko is doing inside Uganda through her music, she has done so inside the country for years. I conclusion, Keko is a phenomenal example of a hip-hop emcee who lifts up the stories of marginalized populations through her work ad music.
Listen to the full interview here