Machakos is a city and county in Kenya. It’s a beautiful place. The large palms, and safari grass are strong and bright, the blue sky dominates the flat and open landscape. But the beauty of Machakos can be deceiving: poverty is a struggle many people face. Because money and time means survival, there are few resources to invest in the arts. It’s not to say that Machakos doesn’t appreciate creativity, there just often isn’t the space for it. Growing up in Machakos, Kyalo Maingi was focused on daily life with his family, he says. Kyalo, who is better known around Africa and Amherst as Machakos Kyalo the international rapper, says back in Kenya dreams and aspirations were not something he really thought about. His older brother, who had helped work and raise Kyalo while their parents worked, encouraged his brother to write poetry, which sparked a lifelong interest in lyrical art. Today Kyalo’s plan is to make sure that every child, regardless of whether he struggled, has his own aspirations.
The hope is that school kids who are exposed to One Trybe, Kyalo’s musical collective, and the music they bring, can inspire kids in Amherst and Kenya to make music and pursue their creative dreams. Also, he’s planting trees. A mission of One Trybe is to plant thousands of trees in Machakos in an effort to beautify the city and simply provide some shade. The collective uses profits from music sales to buy trees — 9,000 so far — and plant them alongside members of the community — 5,500 are already in the ground.
“Kids, the youth, are getting to know me and know our One Trybe Company with us planting trees,” Kyalo says. “It’s a double win-win. I go and plant trees with the kids. We don’t just send the money. We make an actual day and go.”
Kyalo says his mission of supporting children through music, the arts, and community-building projects is necessary — the government isn’t stepping up enough.
“The schools are schools that need a little light on them,” he says. “You know, the government has forgotten about them or the community has forgotten about them. So it’s our way of just bringing a little shade, a more liveable learning environment. We want to show the kids that there is people from their community and county that does care about them and their learning experience.”
Kyalo Maingi, founder of One Trybe Company, is someone with big visions. At first glance he is an immigrant who moved to Amherst from Kenya and is making rap music as Machakos Kyalo, an homage to his home city in Kenya. Zoom out your focus a little, and Machakos Kyalo has a global picture, One Trybe Company spans numerous countries, Kenya, Cape Verde, the United States, and more. And while the average Valley reader may not have heard of him, Kyalo remains extremely active in his home of Kenya as well as Amherst, building connections and providing opportunities for his musical partners and friends worldwide.
To listen to Kyalo’s music and understand his mission is to understand the global implications and the power of music, that while crowded shows and fans are a product of success, success for Kyalo is inspiring creation and improving living conditions and attitudes through music, charity, and inspiration on a global scale.
Kyalo, is an Amherst/Machakos, Kenya based rapper making a splash. Last year Kyalo put out a track with long time friend and Kenyan track world champ — a sports celebrity in Africa — Caleb Ndiku, titled “Run Caleb Ndiku”. The video has over 25k hits and has appeared in Sports Illustrated and Newsweek, his shows draw large crowds and are the topic of conversation for everyone once they leave. Kyalo is known for his style of rap pairing unique and often experimental production with honest and direct lyricism, his recordings are energetic and have their own hyped- up style. Kyalo’s live performances are just as energetic. Incorporating Kenyan chants to start off the show while demanding crowd interaction, Kyalo is one of the most captivating rappers I have seen perform, and his shows bust with positive energy.
Kyalo’s music addresses life in Kenya, struggles he faces in both Kenya and the U.S and racism. Kyalo comments on systemic racism that affects immigrants and African-Americans daily, from discrimination in the workplace and how people perceive you, to police violence. Kyalo’s music addresses problems the world faces, to let people in similar struggles know they are not alone as well as providing insights to what life can be like as a black person in America, working to dismantle racist systems that have oppressed him and countless others.
“I was driving with a couple of friends and we got pulled over for a broken tail light. Then the cop had me eating dirt two seconds later. So, middle finger to the people trying to take my life. … I am telling you I can’t write about what I don’t know. So it’s just my life. Getting into situations or talking about situations I find myself in.” Kyalo says.
“I don’t wanna say they are finally realizing, but people are realizing their kids are living in this world and that problems can be right in their backyard,” he says.
Kyalo’s music also serves as a way to inspire other Kenyans, as a way to give Machakos a name and inspire people from his home.
“Caleb Ndiku just inspired me a lot. He’s from my village. Literally how proud I am when I see him on the TV screen or hear that he won, that’s Machakos winning. You know what I mean? That’s him putting [Machakos] on the map. I wanna do the same thing over and over again until every kid and every parent is just inspired to push our culture and people forward.” Kyalo says.
Now in his mid-20s, Kyalo moved to the United States in 2003 with his family, eventually going to school while working and making music. Eventually Kyalo dropped out of HCC, with intent to go back, in pursuit of his music and his mission to make the world a better place. Kyalo, with his group One Trybe Company, makes music with the school-children as well as runs a fund to help plant trees around his home of Machakos, Kenya. Trees, because a bare Machakos landscape can heat up and shade near schools would be beneficial to the children, but also because of the beauty a tree can provide.
Leaving school is a risk for anyone. The idea that someone can make it pursuing music or arts is a real risk, monetarily and for one’s future. There is a constant pressure for success and growth for many young people, but as son of immigrants and one himself, Kenyan rapper Machakos Kyalo has a stronger pressure to succeed, the amount of time and effort it takes to leave one’s home in search for better opportunities applies a unique pressure that most non-immigrants don’t experience.
Longtime friend and Amherst-based rapper Luis Fernandez, better known as LuieGo, has a tight friendship with Kyalo. His family immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, and similar to Kyalo, LuieGo left school in pursuit of his musical career. He explains that leaving school as a child of immigrants has more elements to it in relation to how their parents feel.
“Our parents are from a third world country. Everything has to be calculated. They think ‘if I come to America, I will live a better life’. That’s calculated, they know that. Music though, doesn’t make sense to them,” LuieGo says. “You’re gonna not go to school to make music to MAYBE make money? That makes no sense.”
“I want to be able to buy a bigger house for my parents,” he says. “That’s what drives us, the struggle, where we come from. Our parents gave us that. “
But moving to America did not mean that life was immediately easier, and Kyalo and his family found themselves working hard in order to take advantage of the opportunities they had made for themselves.
“My big brother Sammy is my inspiration, he dropped out [of school] young to raise me. I don’t know how to repay those years he took off to raise me, while our parents worked.” Kyalo says.
“He’s the one who taught me what a dream was. He keeps me humble. He’s the one who told me to come to Kenya for four months, he’s the wind beneath my wings.”
Kyalo is not alone in his mission to give back to his home. Kyalo started the One Trybe company, which includes artists from Cape Verde, Kenya, and South Africa. One Trybe Company is composed of different musicians with a common goal, spreading the creative fever and giving back to the places they are from.
“One Trybe Company is a sound makers collective. We are focused on using our sound to bring change that brings forward our situations as well as our communities. Right now for me I’m focused on bringing in more African sound makers,” Kyalo says.
“I didn’t know the actual definition or even what part of my thoughts were dreams until I was around 16. So, it’s about telling kids and everyone, our fans, to dream early. Footprints are forever wet, meaning, for me in my village I am one of the few musicians. Footprints being wet means someone else can look at my path and see what I’ve done and take it as a guide.”
But Kyalo and One Trybe’s work with the community isn’t just their music and residual inspiration. One Trybe company has raised funds through charity in order to plant trees around Machakos with the school children. Kyalo sells one of his more popular singles, “RUDE BOi”, with all of the proceeds going to the fund. “Rudeboi came along because of how many shows I was doing last year. I was just performing, going to towns where no one knew me, but by the time I was on my third show, people were bringing their families.” Kyalo says. “So the other artists started calling me a rudeboi, I came over and took over the scene in one day. That’s what they call a rudeboi here.”
Then, Kyalo and One Trybe hit the streets with the children making Machakos a more comfortable place one tree at a time. So far, Kyalo and One Trybe has raised over 9,000 trees in donations and planted over 5,500 thousand trees. Evance Odhiambo Ogonji, 25, known as MTU7SABA is a Kenyan rapper and recording musician. Saba is also a part of One Trybe Company and works with the children playing music and planting trees.
“It took time for my parents to accept my talent, but my recordings convinced them. The life I live and the environment with breathing creatures in it inspires me musically. My music made me meet Machakos Kyalo.” says Mtu Saba in an email interview. “I have always had that passion of working with kids and supporting them, especially when it comes to talents and their well being. I felt the urge to work with One Trybe so that we can make the world, and Kenya, a better place for kids with talent.”
“My laptop got stolen within the first three weeks in Kenya. I probably had 200-300 unreleased songs I was going to release while out here for the tree planting project, but when I looked at the numbers I saw RUDE BOi needed more numbers, and it was a project I believed in. So at the end of the day I just wanted to reboot it, sell it on itunes, and use that money to plant trees here” Kyalo says. “
The tree planting not only provides the landscape with trees to provide shade and a better living experience, but it also helps connect Kyalo to the school kids.
The schools in Machakos are important for the children and families, but are often overlooked and receive little help from the government, according to Kyalo. Amherst based rapper DroBrown, born Alejandro Brown, has been Kyalo’s friend for about 7 years, after being introduced by their mutual friend LuieGo. DroBrown accompanied Kyalo on his trip to Kenya, working in the schools as well as performing and recording music. The experience, DroBrown says, was an inspiring and learning experience.
“All the kids in school were attentive and participating, because they wanted to be there. They didn’t need to be there, but they did need to be there. Kids here don’t want to go to school, in the U.S. there is mad opportunity regardless of what you do.” DroBrown explains. “But it’s about survival, kids here have the safety net, the state or parents have them. It was eye opening, it made me want to work. Since I’ve got back from Kenya I’ve been going in with my work.”
The schools are important to the communities. The schools provide education that will improve the child’s ability to find and do work in the future, but schools also provide meals and a place to spend the day. The schools are a community effort, and while many parents cannot help fund the school, they farm the food and do what they can to help the school run.
“Music is a food to the soul. Since most parents don’t believe that music can pay just like any other job, most of the kids could soil what’s inside them. So by us coming close to them, we have inspired most of them and they really need more of it.” Says Mtu Saba.
Kyalo has a lot of plans for the near future. Kyalo has a catalogue of singles and some finished projects that are waiting to be released upon his return to America. Kyalo is also working on a song like “Run Caleb Ndiku”, but with Kenyan National Soccer team captain Victor Wanyama, set to release this week.
“I am not giving back to Machakos,” Kyalo says. “I have nothing to give back, I’m just telling machakos that I have nothing and I am ready to go forward with you all. This is me, this is not going to change.”
Contact Chance Viles at firstname.lastname@example.org.