Introduction: Project overview and objectives

You can watch all the nyatiti players we recorded in this playlist.

This report is to inform interested parties of the results of field recordings for “Masters of the Nyatiti” programme under Singing Wells project series, produced by Abubilla Music and Ketebul Music. It reports on the field interviews and recordings conducted between Kisumu and Siaya Counties in Lake Region of Kenya and Nairobi City in the period from 1st to 12th July 2017.

“Masters of the Nyatiti” being a pilot programme for a new project series under Singing Wells, one of the objectives of this report is to reassess the original concept based on experiences from the field and to point out encountered challenges and difficulties in meeting concept objectives. Thus, I hope that this document will raise questions for discussion and generally assist in formulating a framework for future recording missions within this specific SW project series. Speaking from the position of research consultant, my recommendations and comments will refer largely to the ethnographic data collection part, complementing Abubilla and Ketebul’s work in relation to SW’s mission and to the novelty of this specific series.

According to its original concept, the Singing Wells Masters series aims at recording and documenting master players and instrument makers of various Kenyan/African instruments as they:

a)  Make their respective instruments;
b)  Tune the said instruments;
c)  Give master classes to other musicians of those particular instruments;
d) Give short brief direction/instructions on how they approach basic training for beginners interested in learning their particular instruments.

Thus, the focal areas for research and filming are instrument fabrication and assembly; tuning methods and transmission techniques. Aside from the wish to record elderly traditional musicians whose skills and knowledge may soon be forgotten, the originality of this programme lies in the idea of documenting the traditional ways of fabricating and assembling a particular instrument. From a methodological point of view, this particularity renders the project difficult to manage in terms of both timelines and accessibility to information and requires a shift in the field team’s customary practices. Suggestions on how to manage this particularity shall therefore constitute the main argument of this report. Hence, the day‐to‐day field report contained herein is of a narrative nature and does not focus on the details of collected data, which will be presented in a finer ethnographic report to follow.

“Masters of the Nyatiti” focuses on the nyatiti, an 8‐string lyre originating in the Luo community on the shores of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya. Most of the field recordings this report is based on were thus conducted in Lake Region of Kenya, notably in Kisumu and Siaya Counties. The details of these recordings will be described in a day to day report and followed by an evaluation of their success and comments on the general framework of the project series.

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