‘Chocolate City’ international Debut
of Kenyan rapper Octopizzo
UK, 9. June 2014 / Europe, AUS, NZ, 23. May 2014 / US, Can, 27. May 2014
There is a bit of nostalgia in Octopizzo
‘s smile when he talks about his old neighbourhood Kibera, just a few kilometres from the centre of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. Growing up in Kibera, one of the biggest slums in Africa, was a challenge – but Octopizzo
has made it and he is now among the top rap artists in Kenya. Even politicians consult him when they want to know what the people think. But instead of having cognac with the president Uhuru Kenyatta, Octopizzo
invites him to come to his house to show him what life is about nowadays in Kibera. ‘Chocolate City’
is the name of Octopizzo
‘s international debut album and also the name Octopizzo
uses for Kibera. Again he doesn’t mean luxurious swiss chocolates. Chocolate refers to the mud and the rusty iron sheets in Kibera, the place where his inspiration lies to this day.
Octopizzo is not another wanna be american gangster rapper. Far from that. Unlike most others who become rich and deny they are from the ghetto. Octopizzo speaks to his fans every day on Twitter and Facebook. Many of them are still from the slums. He has respect and feels responsible for them. For him anyone can make it. That’s why he’s fed up with people complaining that they will never leave the ghetto without even trying.
In 2008 when post-election violence turned Kibera into a battlefield, the then 20-year-old Henry Ohanga was mainly hiding at home, sleeping in fear, only walking the streets armed with a machete for self defence. “During those days you’d never know who was your friend or your enemy”, he says. At this time Octopizzo was making a living working nightshifts as a security guard for shops and malls often earning nothing more than 50 Shillings and a cup of coffee.
Octopizzo started rapping in 2009, producing mixtapes recording Swahili rhymes on top of well-known beats by international stars such as NAS, Dr. Dre or 50 Cent. When the latter visited Kibera, Octopizzo was asked to show him around. A lifetime experience for Octopizzo, who says talking to him revealed a very grounded and humble guy unlike what most people would imagine him to be like.
Octopizzo‘s breakthrough came in 2012 when his song “Ivo Ivo” became a rap anthem in Nairobi.”Ivo Ivo” is short for “Hivyo Hivyo” which simply means “It’s like that, it’s like that”. But some people interpreted it as “evil evil”. Rumours spread in Kenya that Octopizzo was a member of the Illuminati society, and the surrounding media attention boosted the success of the song even further.
Octopizzo has taken his name from his favourite animal, the octopus, one of the strongest inhabitants of the ocean even feared by sharks and whales. The number 8 (or “namba nannie” in Swahili), became his trademark and symbol. The 8th letter of the alphabet is ‘H’ which stands for both, Hip-Hop and his given name Henry. It also refers to the matatu minibus line from central Nairobi to Kibera. With eight being the number of districts in Nairobi as well as the number of provinces in Kenya, Octopizzo stands for all three Kibera, Nairobi and Kenya.
When Octopizzo talks about “Swag” in the first track on the album he doesn’t necessarily mean expensive things but things people in Kibera consider as ‘swag’: a hand full of groundnuts, having a fried bread snack called Mandazi or walking around wearing a pair of clean slippers. Octopizzo also praises the beauty of Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong’o in the title song of the album. They once met on the set of the MTV Base series called Shuga. With his song “Voices of Kibera (V.O.K.)” Octopizzo takes us to Kibera. He wants to share impressions of his neighbourhood with the world, the place where he went to school, started rapping and founded the ghetto collective Y.G.B. (Young, Gifted and Black). The album also introduces two powerful ladies from Kenya. On “Vile Inafaa” Octopizzo worked with Muthoni the Drummer Queen, known as “Kenya’s Missy Elliot”, and “So Alive” and “Memories” features Sage, one of the most promising singers.
And it’s not all just about music. Octopizzo is about to kickstart his own TV show entitled “The Black Star Movement”. (The song “Black Star” is the title song of the show and features his daughter Tracy on the chorus.) The TV show will put the spotlight on local people working on the streets of Nairobi – from a vegetable seller to a coal vendor or a plumber, the jobs an ordinary Nairobian would pass without recognising that there’s hard work involved. The show hands out loans and invests into these small businesses. Octopizzo knows that small things can feed the biggest families: his mother died when he was just 15, and he the had to take care of himself.
Octopizzo is a business man too: he has his own clothing line, also including watches, wrist bands and handmade “Kibera-Bling”. Since 2009 he is also the CEO of his own slum tour called Chocolate City Tours. He wants to give people the chance who have never visited a slum to meet people from Kibera, to see how hard they work and support them by buying products from them. And this year he launched his own brand of condoms called “Let’s do it” with a special edition “In the dark” condoms that glow in the dark to ensure safe sex for bedrooms without electricity.
Octopizzo – Chocolate City
press reactions in Germany:
Berliner Zeitung (10.04.2014)
Funkhaus Europa (23.05.2014)