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 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgyYSB-fgwo&list=RDEMiw3EScs0bxL8CjnclnEHGA&index=2)

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kekotown

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KekomusicOfficial/

To be the MC that’d walk 1000km…

To rap in one language is impressive, two rap in two is incredible—but to rap in two languages at the same time in the same verse? Well that’s just called Kast, and as someone who can’t even rap in their native language, there seems no end to the impressive escapades of the Botswanan rapper. Continue reading “To be the MC that’d walk 1000km…”

The Writah Raps

Hip-hop is as much a literary genre as it is a musical one, and as a means of storytelling the medium of hip-hop has lent its ability to convey meaning to both traditional and modern aspects of African society. And with a mic as his pen, P.P.S. the Writah crafts lyrical masterpieces that connect Senegal’s proud traditional history with it’s push toward the future. Continue reading “The Writah Raps”

Nigerian Tings

You might know UK based Grime artist Jme better as the younger brother of his older sibling, Skepta. The two grew up in Tottenham, a neighborhood of North London, but the parents of Jamie (Jme) and Joseph (Skepta) Adenuga originate from Nigeria, and the brothers’ upbringing had been heavily influenced by their African background.

Continue reading “Nigerian Tings”

Représentez Représentez

Growing up all around the French capital and hailing from all parts of francophone Africa, the Parisian hip-hop collective Sexion d’Assaut has proven that there is power in diversity. The variety of styles present in a given track mixed in with their individual lyrical collaborations combine to form a hypnotically rhythmic creation often imparting a good deal of knowledge as well. And in keeping with their powerful lyrical presence and melodious accompaniment, their track “Africain” does not disappoint. Continue reading “Représentez Représentez”

F E M A L E

How does an Under Armour commercial display the full potentiality of feminine athleticism and power? They could set the whole video to a Sampa the Great song, for one.

A Zambian-born, Botswanan-raised artist with a point to prove, Sampa the Great has distinguished herself as not only one of Africa’s great female MCs, but one of the world’s great MCs— female or not— and her music serves to support this claim. Embracing the role of feminist inspiration and all-around skilled MC, Sampa the Great’s F E M A L E possesses a powerful and uplifting message about the power of women around the world. Its lines acknowledge just how much respect women deserve in a society that constantly allows accomplished females to go unrecognized. She also mentions the power in African women, and the importance of recognizing our roots and how they contribute to our strength. She mentions the power of women struggling economically, the power of women fighting everyday to reach their goals, and the power of women to get out and continue to achieve more. Continue reading “F E M A L E”

Dakar’s Female MCs and the Power of the Cyp(her)

In a hip-hop scene as developed and competitive as Senegal’s, the cypher continues to act as a platform by which talented, young rappers make their debut. The fast-paced intensity of a hip-hop cypher is the perfect way for new artists on the scene to prove to their worth to the public. And in a society where women must give it their all to make an impression in the musical community, the cypher allows female MCs to show everyone that they are just as lyrically passionate and complex than their male counterparts— if not more. Continue reading “Dakar’s Female MCs and the Power of the Cyp(her)”

Toussa, or all-inclusive

Who is Astou Gaye, and how did she set the contemporary precedent for aspiring female rappers in the banlieus surrounding Dakar?

Better known by her stage name Toussa Senerap, Astou began her career calling out a highly-patriarchal Senegalese culture that withholds respect for women in both marriage and the hip-hop industry. There is no questioning Astou’s commitment to overturning society’s status-quo: her first experience with rap was in 50 Cent’s international banger, “In da Club” – a testament to selling drugs and pimping women that Astou transformed into a struggle for women’s emancipation. Continue reading “Toussa, or all-inclusive”

“Comment pouvez vous dormir?”

“How can you sleep?” was just one of the many jabs Senegalese rapper Eyewitness took at then president Abdoulaye Wade in his 2012 track “Message au President” or “Message to the President.”

Continue reading ““Comment pouvez vous dormir?””

L’argot de Sénégal

“Senegal slang” signifies more than its catchy nature would insinuate.

It is impossible to watch this “Y’en a marre” (enough is enough)  video without recollecting Golden-Age American hip hop artists discuss social progression some 20 to 30 years after the civil rights movement. The video begins with Senegalese rapper Djily Baghdad discussing crumbling social and political institutions contemporary with the 2011 Arab Spring movements. Continue reading “L’argot de Sénégal”