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/

More Than Hip Hop: I Am…Young Kenyan, Intellectual, and Revolutionary

According to East African Hip Hop: Youth Culture and Globalization by Mwenda Ntarangwi, “young hip hop artists in the East African nations of Kenya…showcase the opportunities and challenges brought by the globalization of music.” Young hip hop artists in Kenya are less likely to be recognized on a global scale that other artists in the world because of the mixture of American and Jamaican rap styled with a touch of the artists native African language.  Ntarangwi claimed that East African hip hop culture was less commercialized because artists were more likely to honor tradition and their culture, which was less appealing to a larger audience. Ntarangwi further illustrated that East African hip hop was an outlet for social change. Some of the social change that East African hip hop artists were calling for a change in the “economic policies, African identity, and political establishments, as well as important issues of health, education, and poverty.” Ntarangwi explanation about East African hip hop artists that did not publicize because they wanted to uplift their people and make them more conscious of the oppression that was forced on them. The perfect example of a Kenyan hip hop artist was Judge most would associate his style with Megadeth, and Jay-Z, according to Reverbnation.

Judge currently from a rap group called Blackduo. He and the group are Kenyan born artists who tried to empower the urban youth in Kenya to resisted the massive in a peaceful demonstration. Judge was “was born in dandora raised in ziwani were people smoke a lot of weed to release the pressure” according to an interview Judge conducted with Hip Hop Kambi. According to Hip Hop Kambi, Judge created a project named Hip Hop 4 Peace. Judge mention that “HIPHOP4PEACE is a movement for every one not only hiphop artist because hiphop is a culture of peace love and unity and this is exactly what the world needs not only Kenya.” Also, the interview went on exploring Judges take in politics and society. Judge stated, “[‘politicking’ means] Man eat man society because of politic every one is bizzy hyping his tribal leaderz,” which was interpreted as politics influence people’s behavior. Also, the interviewer asked him “What is ‘mental slavery’? Do you have a “philosophy of education,” his replied was “ukoloni mamboleo under paid,” which mean neocolonialism undermining people skills and abilities by underpaying for their services. Judge was a very conscious person because a question was about the youth and the drug problem in Kenya and he stated, “drug is a problem in the whole world not only Kenya but, for example, the problem we do face is because of idling, joblessness, lack of education.” Nevertheless, he was asked about the violence in Kenya, and his responses were “I cant say who is promoting violence, but I can say what is promoting violence e.g., poverty, tribalism, hate spich’.” The one message that he was trying to spread to the youth in Kenya was open up your mind and resisted the oppression in a peaceful manner, which was clearly illustrated in a hip hop song he collaborated.




Judge collaborated with a group named Washamba Wenza from Dandora, Kenya. The collaboration brought about a song called Shupav which means “…we all SOLDIERS of the same struggle and we all gotta go hard…” The song and video wanted to highlight that since they are artists and receiving some money for their talent do not mean that they are not still struggling with the rest of the poor people. They were calling for everyone in Kenya to participate in a peaceful revolution to get their voices heard on being an end to poverty. The message the song was displayed was that people in Kenya need to wake up and demand more from their politicians. Ntarangwi explained that Kenyan artists hip hop songs are for a political campaign to stop injustice and inhumane acts amongst their people.


To read more about Mwenda Ntarangwi book


To read more about Judge style of rap


To read more about the interview


To see more of the video description


Masculinity and Nationalism in East African Hip-hop Music

The paper titled Masculinity and Nationalism in East African Hip-hop Music by Evan Mwangi published in 2004 may not be current in terms of the date of publication but applies even today to hip-hop in general and East African hip-hop in particular. Hip-hop in East Africa has grown considerably since 2004 both in the number of artists and the variety of styles and messages but the majority of the artists are still males and the message is masculine in nature. Mwangi explains in his paper this and more including how female artists try to reverse this portrayal. He also writes about how East African hip-hop, even though influenced by Western hip-hop culture, is localized and is growing to be a culture of its own. Using examples and illustrations the article explains how hip-hop music is used to portray nationalism in the countries of the East African Community namely Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The 16 page paper can be accessed through the link below.