Day 2: Focus on the Nyatiti, Orutu and DRUMS!

We are based in Kisumu, at the Nyanza Club, deep into Luo-land tribal music. Today we are focusing on some of the best Nyatiti and Oruti players around.  And we discovered the Keith Moon of Luo drumming.

Woke up at the Nyanza Club, outside Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Victoria.  This is the view of Lake Victoria we face in the morning before we set out to the next village, Saiya:

Lake Victoria Kenya

As we will do six times on this trip, we pass the equator. We can’t help ourselves:

At the equator

Left to Right: Steve, Winyo (with Bone Guitar), Andy and Tabu.

After this shameless tourist stop we head out towards Siaya.  We’re still roughly 1 PM on the Lake Victoria clock, 90  minutes NW from Kisumu, but on a slightly different road than Rang’ala. We’re here to focus on the Nyatiti, the core Luo instrument – as played by the best players it is a bass, drum and rhythm guitar combined.  And we saw some of the best players.

Nyatiti - instrument of the Luo



We want to remind you first of what a Nyatiti looks like and also of it’s beautifully haunting sound, played by the most famous Nyatiti players of all time, Ayub Ogado; here he is with Kothbiro:







The Music Groups

We saw three groups: two Nyatiti groups sandwiching an Orutu group playing in Ohangala style (a percussion-dance style most often used in weddings/celebrations amongst the Luo).

The Joginda Boys

Featuring Oganda Joginda, in the Nyatiti Style (most styles are named after main instrument)

Organda Joginda and the Joginda boys play for Singing Wells project

This was wonderful Nyatiti music, with Organda Joginda at the heart, playing ‘bass’ with the Nyatiti and  percussion with his leg ‘snares’ and the kick drum with his big toe (with a metal ring on it) banging on the bottom of the Nyatiti. The rest of the band added claps, dancing and wonderful backing vocals.

Organda Joginda and the Joginda boys play for Singing Wells project

We took a while to set up and the band took a nice break in the sunshine in front of the mud and straw hut. And here’s a close up of Organda:

Organda in head dress

Now, let’s hear and watch him play:


Aloka Ohangla Group

Fantastic group featuring the Orutu, the second major instrument of Luo music.  If played by a master it takes on the role of the ‘fiddle’ in Irish or US Country music.  This band played it well…. but the highlight was the drum solo in the Ohangla style.

Here’s the ‘Magic Moment Video’ of the performance:

Aloka Ohangla drums

What you need to know as you listen is the drummer was drumming without a chair, doing deep squats and jumping about a foot off the ground with each ‘kick’ – this went on for four minutes.  Try it for 10 seconds.  Then he then would jump over the drums at key moments or jump in deep squats around the drums, and c) twice he did major spins, hitting drum, spinning and hitting again on time.  The reason you hear it ‘fizzle’ at the last second is because he eventually collapsed.

As you listen to drumming, let’s introduce the Orutu.  It’s a one string instrument, played with bow, with notes determined by finger pressure against the central stick, ‘fretting’ notes.    Here’s what one looks like close up:

The orutu - traditional instrument of the Luo

Here’s the band playing with Jessie and Winyo on an influences song…

Winyo and Jesse perform for Influences - Singing Wells project


Nyatiti Group

Featuring Okumu Korengo. Another wonderful Nyatiti group led by Okumu Korengo who is considered one of the best players around.  Have a listen:

singingwells · Nyatiti Group – Ywak

Okumu Korengo also played all instruments, accompanied by dancers and back up vocals; here he is performing….and posing for a portrait:

Okumu Korego performs for Singing Wells with nyatiti  Okumu Korego performs for Singing Wells with nyatiti

He gathered a big audience….and The Singing Wells team poses with his band:

The Village as ‘set’

We try hard to bring you a sense of the beautiful villages that serve as our recording studios.  Our recordings are delightfully accompanied by cows and chickens expressing their inner musical selves.  And that’s okay, because that is how the music is played and enjoyed.

The audience gather round the ‘stage’ with a typical village hut as the backdrop:

Watching the performance for Singing Wells

Traditional hut in Kisumu Kenya Watching the performance for Singing Wells

And the animals arrive and add to the entertainment:

Cattle in Kisumu Kenya  Cattle in Kisumu Kenya

Including the singing goat……and pink chickens!

Goat in Kisumu Kenya  Pink chickens in Kisumu Kenya

Behind the Scenes

For the most part, we want you to enjoy the performances as they happened, without noticing the Singing Wells team.  But these performances are recorded with six mics (two centre, one far right, one far left, lapel mic for singer, lapel mic for lead instrument) and three cameras (Camera 1 stationary, Camera 2 close in, Camera 3 roving).  So there’s quite a big crew setting things up and recording both audio and video.  So here’s the view from behind the scenes:

Watching the performance for Singing Wells

A young audience watches proceeding (performers are on far right, tent protecting recording equipment far left against back of truck, video guys in middle).  And a view from the field showing Jimmy on Camera 2 filming Organda Joginda:

Watching the performance for Singing Wells

Andy resting after setting up microphones:

Andy Patterson (Abubilla Music) with villager from Kisumu

And Steve working as chief engineer on this session (Macbook Pro and two Motu audio interfaces on top of  our trusted Pelicase, which acts as storage for all equipment, chair and table….in the back of the truck that will see us throughout Western Kenya:

Steve Kivutia (Ketebul Music) - chief engineer for Singing Wells

Finally, here’s Willie setting up a lapel mic for Okumu Korengo

Willie (Ketebul Music) with Okumu Korengo

Thanks for listening.

The Singing Wells Team

29th November 2011

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