Kenyan Photographer Osborne Macharia’s Ode to Hip-Hop
Osborne Macharia, whose origin story as an artist is that he stumbled into photography after failing a course in his architecture major at university, has just dropped a new set of photos that confirm his status as one of the most interesting contemporary photographers working. Without didacticism or pretension, in fact with lots of wit and smart humor, his work challenges preconceptions about Africa, blackness, gender, the body, and the process of making culture itself.
Just a few months ago he made waves for his historical project Nyane: Kenya’s League of Extraordinary Grannies, which he said was, “[T]he story of Kenya’s League of Extravagant Grannies who were once corporate and government leaders in the 1970’s but are now retired. They now live the retired high life traveling to exotic and remote areas within Africa to explore, party and enjoy in exclusivity.”
His latest project, Kabangu centers on four aged security guards who were (and are) hip-hop heads who live in Kariobangi, a settlement in Nairobi. In the words of arts writer Erin C.J. Robinson at OkayAfrica, “As true hip-hop heads, they’ve been following the evolution of the music genre since the 80s. The men have been teaming up to mentor aspiring artists looking to spit bars in the hip-hop industry. Honoring the five elements of the genre: MCing, DJing, breakdancing, graffiti and knowledge—the eccentric grandpa collective instill in their juniors the importance of principles such as peace, equality, prosperity and social justice.”
Kabangu forces us to not only look at the elderly in a new way – to acknowledge the lives they once led and still carry within them; to see the vibrancy that still hums beneath wrinkles and aged skin – but to ponder something of hip-hop culture itself. Hip-hop may be more unforgiving of the aging process and its own legends than any other genre. When it was hijacked by music money men and shoehorned into limited notions of youth culture (racialized notions that pandered and pander to white youth), the result was a thwarting of the process of evolution that happened with rock, R&B, and jazz. It created a reflex toward disposability of what had come before; the natural artistic impulse toward innovation and creating the new was molded into hostility to history and her architects. The photos in Kabangu are a fierce pushback against all of that, metaphorically returning hip-hop to the elders who built the foundation, giving them their due even as the culture moves rapidly into the future and leaves them behind.