Set for the big stage
by Super User

Ali Roba (stage name Jahfire) lives in Korogocho slums; one of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya.

Ali’s talent in music was evident as early as his primary school days where he used to entertain his friends. He would pick on a well-known song by established artists and sing it as his own to the amazement of his fellow pupils and teachers.

After primary education, Ali joined secondary school but performed poorly in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary education (K.C.S.E) due to the obvious challenges of life in his neighborhood. He was hence out in the ‘world’ on his own exposed to the harsh realities of life. To make ends meet, Ali engaged in small merchandise business selling potato crisps around the neighborhood. He would collect his wares early in the morning at a cost of Kshs. 2 apiece to sell at Kshs. 5. On a good day Ali would make a profit of Kshs. 180. However, this was hardly enough to meet the ever increasing needs in this poor neighborhood. Consequently, he would occasionally engage in petty crime and use of drugs popular amongst his peers. 

In 2012, luck beckoned on Ali. As he was strolling around the slum he was moved by musical sounds coming from a distance. Curiously, he walked towards the ‘sounds’ and as he came close, he recognized the peer standing at the door. On inquiring, he was informed that it was a meeting of local ‘wasaani’ (artists in Swahili). The meeting happened to be a music talent search organized by Uwezo Awareness Organization under a project ‘imekubaliwa’ meaning ‘approved’ which is supported by the Civil Society Urban Development Programme (CSUDP). The project aims at identifying and nurturing creative arts talents among the vulnerable youth living in the informal settlement; who have been locked out of the formal employment sector with no other alternative livelihood. The project also seeks to promote peaceful co-existence among the urban youth. It is currently being implemented in selected neighborhoods in Nairobi, Embu, Nyeri and Mombasa counties. 

Ali went through the preliminary auditioning and luckily was selected among the initial eight (8) beneficiaries of the ‘Imekubaliwa’ project to join the Uwezo Music academy. Today the academy has twenty-six (26) students. It was a drastic turnaround for this young man! It has now been a two (2) years journey for Ali with Uwezo. Along the way, Ali introduced his friend Antony Kigera (stage name Zimbo) to Uwezo, who was promptly accepted to join the academy. The two have now formed a Music group, GINX, which stands for Ghetto Inbox. GINX is currently enjoying great support and a growing fan base in the city. In their words Uwezo has enabled them to professionalize their music and record their compositions which in the past was just a pipe dream. Through Uwezo they have accessed platforms that have enabled them showcase and market themselves and their music products. 

 The group has released a number of songs. Their performance ‘False Leaders’ one of their recordings at Liberty Theater Pangani, Nairobi was featured on KBC Grapevine programme. The group performed during Miss Koch annual festival. They are also set to perform during Sawa Sawa annual festival later in the year, organized by Sarakasi Trust which hosts renowned local and international artists in creative arts. Their latest recording ‘Niko Kwa Base’ premiered on Ghetto radio on 5 September 2014 and will be part of the ‘Imekubaliwa’ album to be released soon. Listen to the song| Listen to the interview.

What does ‘Niko Kwa Base’ mean and what inspired it? ‘Base’ is slum cliché to mean a place where slum residents meet to pass away time, share information and get updates on slum ‘going-ons’ and openings for casual labor. Routinely the youth report to the base in the mornings and evenings. Unfortunately criminal gangs also meet at the base to further their agenda. Through this recording GINX pays tribute to their peers some of whom already passed on (rounded up for criminal activities) for the support they received at the base. They hope to dispel the myth that only crime thrives at the ‘base’. The song also urges their peers to abandon criminal activities. Today, the duet use the various ‘bases’ in the settlement to preach peaceful co-existence among the youth as well as their newly acquired celebrity status to influence their peers to change their ways. The establishment of a ‘skool’, slum term for school, for nurturing diverse talent of young people from the informal settlements in the County shall be their ultimate achievement. For Ali and Antony, their star has started shinning and can only shine brighter.

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