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Ghetto Radio – The Voice Of Young Africa


15 October 2006 No Comment

Ghetto Radio will start in April 2007 in Nairobi. The radio station is a Dutch initiative for, by and with young African people. Radio is the medium of the ghettos and to inform the Western audience a documentary about rappers from the slums of the Kenyan capital is made. The title is Noise is my voice. Thursday the 14th of September will be the official start of Ghetto Radio and will be the presentation of the documentary in Amsterdam.

“I got the idea of a radio station for, by and with young people from the urban scene already when I was involved in Colorful Radio” Peter Jansen says. “But the question came from a group of Kenyan rappers. Three years ago I met them in Holland. When I told them how I worked with radio, they asked me if I could do something like that for them”. One of them is from the rapcrew Kalamashaka and the other Buddha Blaze. Others like the group Kenyanna and rapster Angel can be seen in Noise is my voice. When the Publieke Omroep (Public Broadcast) started to cut down expenses on Colorful Radio, Jansen arranged the superfluous radio studios for Ghetto Radio. “That was very easy. I hadn’t expected that the Publieke Omroep would be so enthousiastic” And he still is.

Ghetto Radio is founded in 2005. “It’s not only a foundation but also a mark with her own style” Maarten Brouwer says. He is the director of Noise is my voice and as the editor-in-chief he is responsible for the content of the programs of the radio station. “It’s an urban mark that will give young people all over the world a chance to raise their voice on the radio. This is the beginning of human dignity, because that doesn’t exist really in the ghettos.” Not only the music but also the content is important, Jansen adds. “In the music of the youth you hear already a message. Thereby you can give young people the chance to learn a profession. The radio stations in Nairobi are commercial. For young people from the ghettos there is no stage and if their music is played, they don’t receive royalties. We will pay them royalties.”

The documentary gives a good and strong view of rappers from different slums of Nairobi. Brouwer: “The youth in Nairobi doesn’t have any money but at the same time they are artistically involved in rap, poetry and music. They are inspired by American hip-hop but they rap in their own street language: the Sheng. This is slang, a mixture of Swahili, English, Luo and Kikuyu.” Brouwer: “On MTV the youth sees the same things like we see, they know and rap all the lyrics. They know everything, they have all the time to listen.” 

Jansen and Brouwer started with Noise is my voice because they want to show the audience in Holland how the situation for the youth in cities like Nairobi really is. “The view people here have of Kenya, is that of the safari” Brouwer says. “We want to give a view of the youth in the slums, of the deprived situation in which they have to live. We know that Ghetto Radio cannot succeed if there isn’t a good awareness in Holland of the problems of the African youth and artists in the slums. Important for us is the opening of the ghettos. There is not only a ghetto in Nairobi, there are thousands of ghettos worldwide. People speak in their urban codes the same language. Everywhere they have one thing in common: they are the group that is forgotten, the group nobody wants to see, that’s put aside.”

November 2005 Brouwer and Jansen went to Nairobi and during a period of three weeks they filmed some young people in the slums. Brouwer: “From that we made a selection of the most interesting characters. Young people who are not only artists but also people who have to tell something by their lyrics. We didn’t want to show the image of pitiful people. What we show is ghetto pride, young people with pride, with whom you can identify easily. They are poor and neglected, but at the same time they are part of a worldwide hip-hop-culture that can be a counter-balance against established political powers. When you look into the ghettos, you see an urban culture.”

Three months after their return to Holland Jansen and Brouwer receive by telephone the tragic message that Pete Okong’O aka Milpolo, one of the main characters from the documentary and rapper of Kenyanna, is killed by the police. Brouwer: “We were shocked. The week after I went to Nairobi. Ghetto Radio has organized a memorial in the town hall of Nairobi. The whole hip-hop-scene of Nairobi was present and also some political important persons who were willing to tell about the rights of the youth. According to the police he was a gangster but he wasn’t. One of the rappers is himself a policeman! But those rappers have a big influence on the little community, they have a voice, the started to get influence and by that they are considered as a threat. The police has a shoot-to-kill-policy. We filmed the memorial, it’s broadcasted at Kenyan television. There have been talks with the police. By that the other rappers of Kenyanna are safe now.

The radio station has to be regulated by the youth themselves. For that reason cooperation with local organisations is really necessary. In Nairobi that’s Sarakasi Trust. Jansen: “Sarakasi means acrobatic. They work for already fourteen years with 5000 young people from the slums. They do acrobatic, dance and theatre with them. We told the director of Sarakasi about the plan and he was very enthousiastic from the beginning”. The idea of Ghetto radio is welcomed everywhere. Brouwer: “Because everybody can do his own thing. No government can burn her hands on it. The condition is that the radio station is non-political and doesn’t take a stand against the government. Most of the raps are very critical, you can see that very well in the documentary. But as long as the people express their displeasure, it’s not a problem. Their intention is positive. But provisionally the ghetto people are not a part of the system. That’s frustrating them, for that reason they don’t want to deal with politics.

Very special will also be the website. By this site Ghetto Radio can be heard all over the world. Brouwer: “From Nairobi to New York, from Dakar to Amsterdam. And Ghetto Radio Nairobi will not only broadcast Kenyan hip-hop, but also hip-hop from the USA, the Netherlands and other African countries. I have the conviction that hip-hop, wherever it comes from, is one big family. All the ghettos can present themselves on the site.” 
Ghetto Radio has already a license and a frequency. We have a studio, software and equipment and three professional sound technicians. “Broadcast Partners has offered to train young people from Nairobi to work with the software. They also will make an evaluation afterwards.”
Young people from Nairobi will be trained with the aim to make professional radio people of them. Peter Jansen: “At Colorful Radio I always threw people before the microphone. Some guys do that very well. It doesn’t have to be good always. They are between 15 and 25 years, they are in a phase of their life that they have to learn.”

The development of Ghetto Radio goes very prosperous at the moment. Jansen and Brouwer have the plan to put up radio stations in Lagos (Nigeria) and Dakar (Senegal). They have already the contact but Nairobi has priority now. The support by the Publieke Omroep has a very positive effect, Jansen says. “Many people are very critical about them but they gave a tremendous support. Not financially because that’s not allowed but by giving equipment. They take us serious and by that also the Ministry of Culture takes us serious. The minister Van der Hoeven is already in touch with the Kenyan ministery. They are also positive about Ghetto Radio.”

The Dutch radiostations FunX and 3FM are important partners. Jansen, Brouwer and the rappers from Kenya were at the 12th of September guests of FunX and 3FM. Jansen: “By FunX there will be an exchange between programs. Reporters of FunX will ask questions to young people on the street about certain subjects. That will be broadcasted in Nairobi. There they do the same in the slums. That will be broadcasted by FunX.”

Maarten Brouwer: “Ghetto Radio can really succeed if we get enough funds. Partly we are going to ask for that in Nairobi and partly in the Netherlands. We hope to find enough funds and sponsors to realize the radio station in Nairobi. We already have a studio, a frequency, a location, so we seriously have to offer something.” 

The documentary will be broadcasted by Llink at the Dutch television: at Nederland 3. And will be shown also at the websites of Ghetto Radio and FunX. 

“The DVD of the documentary will be in a 72 pages book about Ghetto Radio. We offer it at the 14th of September to the audience.”


Article by Rik van Boeckel

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