Day 1 – Saturday 1st July 2017

Day one of our field mission was originally reserved for travel, for the road from Nairobi to Kisumu City. However, as our schedule was going to be tight, and some of the preliminary work had not been completed, we opted for a semi‐formal preparative interview with John Otieno ‘Rapasa’, a young nyatiti player based in Nairobi, yet from Alego area (Siaya County), who was a part of our team as a fixer and translator. The main objective of this semi‐interview was to define, at least, approximatively, the different stages of nyatiti making before arrival to the field in order to plan on filming economically. According to what was explained by Rapasa, who also makes the instruments, we identified 9 stages of nyatiti making. This would later facilitate following the instrument makers narratives and allow for comparison. Other pertinent information provided by Rapasa during our drive to Kisumu included the types of trees used for nyatiti (with vernacular terms), the symbolism behind nyatiti’s shape (resembles the traditional Luo hut shape), symbolism of the number (8) of strings of the nyatiti, his tuning techniques and order of string tuning, together with the story of his personal attachment to his instruments collection (owns 14 nyatitis).

Upon our arrival to Kisumu City, we had another semi‐formal interview that would birth ideas for other hypothesis and arguments to follow up on. We met Meshack Okoth Okumu, who was to be our fixer in the area. Son of late Okumu Orengo, a well‐known nyatiti master previously recorded for SW, Meshack took up the nyatiti after his father’s death. His discussion with Rapasa and Ketebul’s Tabu Osusa brought up several interesting points, including:

‐  Differences between the two most commonly used trees for nyatiti resonator – ngowu (oak tree) and poch ondero (fig tree);
‐  Trees used or arms and head of the instrument – powo, siala (vernacular names, corresponding Latin and/or English names TBC);
‐  Dispute over which part of the region the instrument first originated in – South Nyanza or Central Nyanza;
‐  Discussion on the nyatiti gender taboo (whether a woman is or is not traditionally allowed to play the nyatiti and the reasons why);
‐  Mention of a Cultural Festival which takes place every year on 27th December and hosts several local nyatiti players;
‐  Discussion on whether a good nyatiti maker needs to be able to play the instrument as well;
‐  Names of currently best nyatiti makers in the area, according to Meshack and mention of several masters who passed away;
‐  Discussion on playing positions (traditionally played while seated on a stool, some contemporary artistes play while standing as well) and its cultural and symbolic importance;
‐  The practice of praising people though song as central in nyatiti tradition (“Music sings whoever is around”, Luo proverb) and nature of improvisation that comes with it;
‐  Traditionally in the past there was a separation between vocalists and nyatiti players (not the same person);
‐  Term controversy (thum as opposed to nyatiti, is in fact a generic term for music in Luo language) and hypothetical historical explanation;
‐  Mention of “Koblong”, a tune known by almost all players, often used for teaching cause of its strong combinations;
‐  Traditional positioning of player within a homestead when playing at ceremonies; etc.

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