It’s all ‘Bien’ for Henrico H.S. grad, budding musical talent

Former Henrico High School basketball standout Tray Okoth is an up-and-coming musical artist and author who is beginning to earn recognition for his positive and informative messages though his work.

Okoth, whose stage name is “Tray Bien,” moved to the United States with his parents from Kenya in 2003 for better opportunities. He eventually moved to Henrico County, and in 2006 he graduated from Henrico High School after making a name for himself as a standout on the basketball team.

Tray Bien has performed at many different venues in the Richmond area, such as Element Lounge, Posh Lounge and Tropical Soul Café. He also performed at an Atlanta nightclub, although he said that his music is not specifically geared towards the nightclub scene.

His break recently came when he signed a distribution deal with JMD / INgrooves / Universal Music Group, which will make it easier for him to gain more exposure to a wider audience beyond the Richmond area.

In his music, Okoth addresses pressing issues that plague his homeland. In his song “Africa,” he raps about war, genocide and skin bleaching. He also mentions FGM (female genital mutilation), describing it as a widespread and unfathomable issue in Africa.

Though he openly addresses these issues in his music, he describes himself as being reserved and quiet in nature.

“I’m not that social. I don’t speak a lot. And I’m an art major so I use my art as a form of expression. Music gives me a different sense of relief. I can’t explain how it feels when somebody relates to when I talk about something that happens in my life,” he said.

Upon graduating from Henrico High, he went on to study art and continued to play basketball at Carson Newman College in Tennessee. He was chosen to play basketball overseas but was unable to because of travel issues. He said he used the setback as an opportunity to further pursue his music.

The prime objective of his music is to reintroduce hip-hop as an art form.

“I’m trying to transcend the negative stigmas of hip hop in general,” he said.

Not only does Okoth try to deliver powerful messages about society’s issues through his music, but also through his stories. He is in the process of writing two books, one that’s a fictional narrative and the other that attempts to discover a new way of thinking. He hopes to have both books released by next year.

Okoth said that his writing ability is a talent that he has possessed for a long time. “I’ve always been a writer since I was young . . writing about fiction, then I’d translate it to poetry,” he said.

He encourages other artists in the Richmond area who want to get their foot into the door to understand their motives behind their music. “Be true to yourself," he said. "You have to know why you’re doing this. If it’s just for the money, that’s the wrong reason. Be an individual.

“I’m doing it for a greater cause. I’m trying to help people back home."
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The Goochland Chapter of Virginia Oath Keepers, serving Henrico, Hanover, Louisa, Goochland and Powhatan, will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. at the Goochland Public Library, located at 3075 River Road West. The meeting is open to the public. For details, call Doug Shackelford at 556-2409. Full text

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