GNL Zamba’s Rapid Rise in Uganda, Indigenous Pride, and His Take on Social Issues

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GNL Zamba stands out in Uganda’s rap scene as the first rap artist to popularize indigenous rap, or Lugaflow. He inspired a new generation of rappers in Uganda to rap in their indigenous languages. He earned fame as a rap artist during the initial development of the hip hop scene in Uganda, where he auditioned for Hip Hop Canvas, a multi-lingual music project. He stood out because of his ability to tell local stories in Luganda through his rap. GNL Zamba came to discover his passion for music as a child, when his grandmother encouraged him to pursue it. He grew up in the slums of Kampala around a lot of poverty post-civil war, which helped GNL Zamba tell stories about socioeconomic issues in his rap. Surprisingly, he went on to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Management. He is now the founder and CEO of an independent Hip Hop label called Baboon Forest Entertainment.

GNL Zamba is most well known for using his songs to highlight and criticize issues of sexuality, womens’ issues, domestic violence, politics, environment, and more. He uses characters in his raps to portray instances of these issues affecting people’s lives.

GNL Zamba is heavily involved in humanitarian and social work, both in Uganda and overseas. He has done a lot of work to promote sexual health and safety. He worked with Buzz Teenies to tour Ugandan schools, provide mentorship, and speak about safe sex. His song, “We Cry,” was a huge influence in promoting the message of safe sex to Ugandan youth. Additionally, his music video for “True Manhood” encouraged Ugandan youth to use condoms. He has also travelled to the US, and helped promote sexual health programs in Los Angeles and NYC.

GNL stands for “Greatness No Limits,” and GNL Zamba’s greatness is easily seen in his work promoting indigenous languages as well as the stories of Ugandan people in his music.




Queer, Feminist, Survivor: How Ugandan Rapper Keko Brought New Perspectives to Ugandan Rap

Ugandan rapper Keko relaxing in a cafe in Kampala.

Uganda has seen a steady rise in its Hip Hop scene over the past two decades, but no Ugandan rapper has made as unique an impact on the scene as Keko, a 31 year old queer female rapper whose style of storytelling through rap stole the hearts of many Ugandans and Africans. She started out as a radio DJ on Uganda’s government owned station called X-fm, and then left her job to focus on recording music. Her climb to fame in East Africa came with her first single “How we do it.” She then released a single called “Alwoo (Cry for Help)” which caught the attention of Ugandans and many Africans, because it told stories of domestic abuse, career setbacks, grief and loss, personal struggle, and more. This message resonated with many Africans, and many Africans admired her lyrical creativity and consistent style.

A sample of her lyrics from “Alwoo” regarding the issue of domestic abuse faced by women is as follows:

“She said it felt like waking up to darkness in daylight,

Every day’s a war, no date night,

And she can’t go home, her mom will send her back,

Telling her it’s okay to not fight back,

‘A man is a man, let him have his way,

And in time you can see it will be okay.’”

Keko talks about the loneliness and anguish faced by many African women who grow up in a patriarchal culture that disempowers women to fight against abuse inflicted upon them by their male partners. By telling the woman’s story, Keko wanted to shed light upon the experiences of women facing abuse from their viewpoints and hoped that people would have more sympathy for women being treated this way. In this way, Keko gives a voice to the most vulnerable individuals in Ugandan society through the stories her music tells.

Keko has gone on to perform at some of Africa’s biggest music festivals, collaborate with other famous African musicians, receive endorsement deals from Pepsi and Mountain Dew, and be featured on CNN’s “African Voices.” However, the loss of her mother as well as living a closeted life as a lesbian in a very conservative, anti-LGBT Uganda led her to drug addiction, which she fought to overcome. Keko ended up moving to Canada and taking Canadian citizenship, after which she same out as lesbian on her Twitter, happily proclaiming “My gay ass is free yes free and there will be a wedding you best believe” and “Thank you Canada for giving me a new home… I feel free like a new person. It was a burden to live in a box and walk on eggshells.” Keko remains a household name in East Africa, but also saw a small rise to fame in the US and Canada because of her coming-out after moving to the West.

For now, Keko has chosen to live a private life, but many fans hope that she will come back with her same style of story-telling rap to provide narratives of queer-identifying Africans and their struggles.

Song: Alwoo (Cry for Help) – Keko (