t face value, it would seem that music is all there is to Juliani’s world. However, there’s more than meets the eye with this award-winning artist. “I have a passion for community development and transformation among other things,” he begins, as he takes us back to his childhood.
Juliani was born and raised in Nairobi’s Dandora estate and this environment shaped his outlook on many things at an early age. In fact, it was in Dandora that his love for music was nurtured. Juliani identified with and was eventually part of Ukoo Flani Mau Mau – Kenyan hip-hop pioneers, who through unique lyricism and linguistic inventiveness, highlighted colonial struggles, societal issues and the struggles of life in the ghetto among other things.
He nostalgically recalls the rap battles and how they were a closely knit community brought together by the love of music. “Ukoo Flani shaped me and my music and from a young age this was all I knew and wanted to be a part of,” Juliani shares.
He later ventured into gospel music but the foundations of the hip-hop group still stuck. His songs still take the same form – highlighting societal issues and struggles in the ghetto – and despite the criticism surrounding his choice of music, the passionate artist has remained on course. With hits like Machozi ya Jana and Utawala, Juliani has successfully and effortlessly set his footprint as a voice for the society.
Juliani left Dandora at the age of 19 and coming back after being exposed to a different environment amplified his desire to make a change in his community. Living in that space was all he knew, but once he left, he saw things differently.
“Every time I spoke to people; I knew I had a lot to share but there was never a space for that. At the same time I received a lot of compliments from people such as Kanjii Mbugua that my music was unique and I had a lot to offer,” he shares.
Hip-hop, as established by Ukoo Flani, was impactful. As Juliani would put it, singing groups Kalamashaka and Wenyeji had already made an impact through their music. As a result, he had an already defined path and he found purpose and who he wanted to be from that space. However, Juliani reckons that he purposed to go beyond impact and add value to his music through different initiatives in the community. Environmental degradation in Dandora and issues affecting the youth are some of the things he began to see in new light.
With a lot of recognition and awards for his music, Juliani decided to take a different path. “I needed to find a way to measure the impact my music had and how to make money from it,” he explains.
Juliani’s first initiative was Dandora Hip-hop City – a vibrant, creative and transformational space that provides a sense of belonging to youth who desire to be equipped, grow and network in the arts, technology and entrepreneurship. Initially, it was a project that relied on advocacy projects from NGOs, but this, according to Juliani, was not sustainable. As his music career grew, he decided to put in more resources and invest in the people within the Dandora Hip-hop City. This way, he was able to measure the impact of the initiative through the transformation of the people therein.
“We are trying to develop holistic individuals who can be of value to themselves and their communities. We especially create a safe space for them to express themselves and provide advice and the means to bring their ideas to life,” Juliani shares, saying that the transformation among the youth has been incredible.
Through his position as the country’s youth and climate change ambassador, Juliani got the chance to travel and this enabled him to see where the world is in terms of climate change and its effects. “Africa may not be a great contributor to global climate change, but we have a role to play in our own environment to contribute to the global initiative towards curbing the effects of climate change,” he offers.
Dandora Hip-hop City recently partnered with the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) to facilitate various projects one of which is in line with Juliani’s passion for environmental change. Through Dandora Hip-hop City, Juliani has come up with a solution for recycling trash known as Customer Bora. This is an online platform that facilitates trash collection for proper waste management.
According to Juliani, Customer Bora is a platform that awards responsible consumers and is an entry point for youth transformation. The youth set up and manage Taka banks (trash ATMs) and as people properly dispose the trash and raise their concerns about the environment, they earn points that are redeemable for prizes. The initiative is currently set in Dandora but Juliani hopes to replicate it to other areas in future.
In addition, KAM, in partnership with Dandora Hip-hop City, recently held a workshop at PAWA 254 for upcoming artists to raise awareness on proper waste management through the use of music and art.
As if on a mission to leave a footprint in every space, Juliani established My Msanii – an application that provides a platform for artistes of all calibers to connect with potential clients for various shows.
Dandora Art Centre is also an avenue of impact for Juliani and a product of his desire to give back. It is a space that conducts art programs and markets young innovative and creative talents locally and internationally.
“The artists have received media coverage and exposure through the initiative and many lives have been transformed as a result,” Juliani shares.
It goes without saying that Juliani has left his fingerprint in the lives of many young people. It, however, has not been a walk in the park. “This is a process that took time, vision and direction from God. I always try to be in tune with God’s voice, and when things don’t seem to work out, I always go back to His Word and His instruction. It was about patience and consistency and I purposed to be the best at what I do,” he firmly says.
Juliani’s vision for the next couple of years is to organise young people around various initiatives, inform them, and activate them to do things to better themselves and their communities. “The youth have a lot to offer, they just need resources and the space to try things until they work. God has blessed me with a stage and a voice and I intend to use that to the maximum,” he shares.
Juliani is no stranger to criticism, but he constantly keeps his head up and pursues all he is passionate about relentlessly.
“From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, so my only task is to consistently feed myself with God’s word and the information I need, and my work- music and the different initiatives will be positively affected,” he says in conclusion but not before revealing that he is currently working to release his new album – The Masterpiece.