Hip-Hop Literature: a case study from the new Kenyan literary scene

Aurelie Marion Journo


A lot of research has been done around the emergence of Sheng, the new street language in Kenya. Researchers have debated on its status as a language, a creole or a pidgin (Samper: 2002), on its function as an identity-creator (Nyairo & Ogude: 2003), or again on the effects it might have on other vernacular languages (Fink: 2002). Our aim in this article is to consider Sheng in the context of literary creation in Kenya. The Kenyan literary scene has developed tremendously over the last couple of years, notably thanks to the creation, in 2003 of the Kwani? Trust. The Kwani? magazines, that publish pieces from both reknown and aspiring authors, has offered, along with reading events, a space for new voices to be heard, especially among the youth. We will examine in detail two pieces written by Jambazi Fulani in the second issue of Kwani? published in 2003. In those pieces, Sheng is intertwined with English and Kiswahili, as they reflect the frustrations and experiences of today's youth in Nairobi. The aim of our analysis is to focus on the language used, and on how it is a tool that serves the definition of a certain community, the Youth, while enabling the author to play with code-switching and references that make the texts more palimpsestic than they might seem at first. Their uncertain status as pieces of literature will also lead us to reflect on their place in the recent developments in the Kenyan literary scene.


hip-hop; icons; identity; Kwani? magazine; language; literary creation; literature; matatu culture; relations between sexes; self-representation; Sheng; Storymoja; urban experience; youth

Full Text: