On our last day in Lake Region, we paid a visit to Ayub Ogada, probably the most internationally acclaimed Kenyan musician, whose use of the nyatiti in different musical genres is both original and pertinent for our Masters of the Nyatiti story. We spent the day at his home in Nyahera location, not far from Kisumu town, and conducted a long yet free of form type of interview. Although a Luo himself, Ayub had never learned how to play the nyatiti in a traditional setting. He picked it up later in his career and studied from a player/teacher at the national cultural centre of Bomas of Kenya in the 1980s. He remembers he had gone for 6 lessons (at a 100 shillings) only and then continued practicing and experimenting by himself. It was equally interesting to hear his theory of the name nyatiti, which he translated from the Luo word nyar as queen and titi, making it “the queen of the clan”.
The most interesting points Ayub had made were on the difference between playing at home, in an informal or traditional setting and playing in a foreign setting (notably in Europe). He said: “When I’m home, I’m free, I don’t care about my tuning…When I’m playing in Europe, now the violin wants to come in, the guitar wants to come in, so now I need tuning.” In any case, both his tunings and his finger plucking techniques are very much different from the traditional nyatiti players. He says he created his own style of music and learned to “adapt in order to survive”.
At his home, we encountered another talented musician – Martin Njoroge “Papillon”, whom Ayub has been mentoring. Papillon played for us a few tunes on an original string instrument he invented and manufactured himself. This was very interesting to observe, since the instrument in question was based on the nyatiti, although it had more strings.