Meet Daniel Onyango.
How a young music impresario in Kenya is using technology to build a creative community.
7 Minute read
Daniel’s journey as an artist and entrepreneur started off in the humblest of settings: a small, musty storage room inside a tumbledown building in the heart of Kibera.
The space previously had been filled with corrugated iron sheets, the kind used for roofing throughout the district. But Daniel saw something else in the dank, metallic-smelling room: A recording studio in the making.
At the time, Daniel owned an old laptop and a second-hand mic bought from a producer friend. It wasn’t much; just enough to get started. Ever since he was eight years old watching Lingala performances with his father, Daniel knew that music would be central to his life. But fate had its own ideas. Just before his ninth birthday, Daniel’s father passed away. Five years later, he lost his mother, and that’s when he moved to Kibera to live with his uncle.
By day, Daniel attended school and worked odd jobs in a cyber cafe while creating beats for Kiberan rappers. Gradually, he scraped together enough funds for a new microphone here, a mixing board there. When he felt discouraged, he turned to a close group of friends from school. They understood the hustle it took to succeed in a community with so few resources for aspiring artists.
“At Hitbox Creative we are united by our belief that art is important in Kibera. It brings people together, and also helps us to forget about the negative, difficult side of life.”
After some months working in the storage space-turned-studio, Daniel gathered his six closest friends together and shared his plan to build something bigger. He envisioned a music and film collective, a hub where they could create and distribute art about their lives in Kibera. Soon they found a new room for rent. It was, like Daniel’s first space, a dank box with little natural light. But it was centrally located, and it had plenty of room for an editing bay, a mixing board, and a mic. As far as they were concerned, it was the perfect space to start producing hits. And so Hitbox Entertainment was born.
Since there were no film or music production schools in Kibera, Daniel and the other members of Hitbox needed to get creative to boost their craft. First, each member needed an affordable phone, one that would help them manage their data, efficiently store music and video files, and collaborate with other members of the team. So one by one, they bought Android (Go edition) smartphones.
“Go edition smartphones make our work much easier. Files by Google tells us when we’re running low on storage on our phones, and helps us clear a lot of space. And our phones allow us to save music and video tutorials offline.”
Daniel immediately downloaded the YouTube app on his Nokia 3 and started saving music and film-production techniques for offline viewing whenever he had access to wifi. He would watch the videos incessantly—while in the studio, laying in bed at night, during meal breaks—repeating them as many times as he needed until he mastered a new technique.
As his skills increased, so did Hitbox’s reputation in their community. Gradually, word of their talent spread, and other Kiberan artists started coming to them seeking affordable studio space, a new beat, or a sleek music video for their latest track. So Daniel returned to his YouTube tutorials, mastering new film-production techniques, like how to operate a steadicam.
“Just like I struggled, there are upcoming artists from Kibera who can’t afford studio time. So we’ll let them record for free.”
Today, Hitbox Collective is a hub for artists of all sorts in Kibera: cinematographers, rappers, musicians, producers, visual artists, and more. Their videos have thousands of views on YouTube, and they’ve been featured on radio and TV programs throughout Kenya. But that doesn’t mean that Daniel is done growing.
Whenever he runs into a creative wall, he shares his work-in-progress—a new reggae-inspired beat, a snippet of a rap vocal, the intro to a dance hall music video—with a Hitbox collaborator using the file-management app Files by Google. Since the app uses bluetooth to share files, he never has to worry about running out of data. The app also helps him manage storage space on his phone as he juggles multiple film and music projects, alerting him to clean up redundant or unnecessary files.
The members of HitBox Collective still have a long way to go to achieve their dreams of reaching a worldwide audience with their art. But Daniel, who has been steadily working towards this goal since he was eight years old, is proud of what he’s helped to build: A space for his community to turn the reality of their lives in Kibera—the good and the bad—into art.
How Daniel does it.
Daniel and the rest of Hitbox collective didn't attend a formal arts institution where they could hone their video and music production skills. That’s why they turn to free Youtube tutorials whenever they need to master a new technique. They save the videos offline on their phones to watch as many times as they need without spending additional funds on data.Learn more
Files by Google.
For Daniel and the rest of his team, collaboration is key to their creative success. That’s why Hitbox uses Files by Google to share files and get feedback, saving precious data the members would otherwise need to send the files from their mobile phones. Files also helps manage their storage space, helping them clear their phone of redundant or unnecessary files, leaving room for their next creative masterpiece.Learn more
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