Julius Owino - "Who's Going to Change Things If It's Not Us?"




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Oct 16, 2017
by Mirva Villa
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Julius Owino - "Who's Going to Change Things If It's Not Us?"

Celebrated Kenyan rapper speaks about building confidence and supporting others Julius “Juliani” Owino is one of 50 participants taking part in the fourth Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators

“Being confident in yourself and having the courage to try – we didn’t have that,” says Julius Owino, speaking at the fourth Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators. “Over time,” he adds, “I built that confidence for myself... For me, it takes small actions and being deliberate… And what I learned [at the session] is having courage, too. Having [the] courage to try. So over time, you try, and you try, and it starts making sense.”

Owino (also known by his rapper name Juliani) grew up in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. It was a harsh upbringing: he would see his parents and the parents of his friends work hard every day to try and make sure there was food on the table. He was 16-years-old when he got his first good pair of shoes. He lost friends who were killed as a result of crime.

For Owino, who started creating music as a teenager, it felt at the time like there was nothing to encourage him to strive for success.

“It’s really difficult to get somebody to tell you failure is not one of the things that is celebrated. You only celebrate when you’re successful.

“When you have hope, you can take anything that day. When you get people telling you that they see something in you, even when you’re not seeing it – that’s really inspiring and gets you [going].”

For the most part, Owino had to build that self-confidence on his own. Now, having become a well-known hip-hop artist, Owino wants to support people from his childhood community.

He has already founded several initiatives, including Dandora Hip Hop City, Mymsanii, Customer Bora, and Taslim. The projects all have the same goal: to give hope to young people.

“To just tell these guys that actually, I see something in you that your reality is not showing you now, and here’s an environment for you to try to bring it out of yourself.”

Owino is one of 50 participants taking part in the fourth Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators.

Among other creators and innovators from the arts and culture sector, Owino is taking part in seminars and break-out groups discussing entrepreneurship, storytelling and leadership.

By the end of the session, participants like Owino will able to develop their ideas, skills, and global networks that will help them and their causes to grow in stature.

First started in 2014 to empower and advance young change-makers, Salzburg Global’s Young Cultural Innovators network now includes more than 200 creatives all over the world.

Uniting and empowering young people is something Owino feels strongly about. He raps in Sheng – a Kenyan language mixing English, Swahili, “and any other thing that can make sense” because in
a country divided by tribes and class lines Owino says that’s one of the things that unifies people, particularly young Kenyans.

“It’s a language that keeps changing… It was created by Kenyans to break barriers when it comes to tribal issues, class issues… Sheng is one of the main things that has been able to do that,” Owino says.

Speaking to Salzburg Global on the second day of the session, Owino says he has “already gained a lot” from the experience.

“For me, even to be here with all these 50 amazing people that I’m amongst, who are doing things all over the world… and I’m just a guy from Nairobi. It has increased my confidence and my validation,” says Owino. “If I can get to do a YCI [event] in Nairobi, that would be amazing.”

“Kutabadilishwa na nani Kama si sisi” is the name of one of the songs on Owino’s first album, which translates in English as “Who will change things if it’s not us?”

The song reflects on his experiences growing up in the slums. Its message is to empower young people to take up the responsibility to improve their own lives.

“It’s easy to become the victim, and it’s easy to have that perception about yourself, that you just have to survive and die… Through faith in [myself ], I actually realized that I have a lot to offer. So that’s why I’m saying, who’s going to change things if it’s not us?” 

The Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators IV is part of a ten-year multi-year series. This year's program is supported by the Albanian-American Development Foundation, American Express, Arts Council Malta, Cambodian Living Arts, Canada Council for the Arts, Edward T. Cone Foundation, Fulbright Greece, Japan Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, Adena and David Testa, and the U.S. Embassy Valetta, Malta. More information on the session can be found here. More information on the series can be found here. You can follow all the discussions on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram by using the hashtag #SGSyci.

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