Day 2 – Sunday 2nd July 2017

We started day two with a visit to Meshack at his late father’s home in Umala village, Alego constituency (Siaya County). His setting up for playing brought about a discussion and interesting notes on the accompanying “equipment” traditionally used when playing the nyatiti. These include: badiz (a piece of cloth tied to the player’s ankle as background for bells); gara (series of bells; should be a minimum of 8 in a string) and oduong (a foot ring placed on the thumb toe). He then explained the way he tunes his instrument and confirmed our presumption that the tuning techniques vary from player to player, as well as the fact that not all know how to do it correctly. Meshack Okoth Okumu K’orengo then played for us, accompanied with a choir of 5 men of different age, 3 tunes on his nyatiti. The tunes were recorded as follows:

The recording of songs was followed by a short interview. Probably the most interesting finding of this session was the fact that younger traditional players do not (or only exceptionally) compose new tunes, but replicate existing old ones. Within the nyatiti tradition, tunes remain the same, whereas the lyrics can change, evolve. They are the fruit of a specific player’s imagination and can be adapted to the occasion and/or to tell the praise of a different person. The fact that Meshack picked up the instrument only once his father had passed away brought about several hypothesis on the meaning of this generational gap and questioned the possibility of an existing cultural taboo concerning two generations of players from the same home playing actively at the same time.

From K’Orengo’s homestead we went on to a second location in Kaluo Umaje village of the same constituency where we met our first nyatiti maker – Obong’o Omenda. Born 1949, the elder was unfortunately feeling unwell and could only explain the instrument fabrication without detailed demonstration. Nevertheless, we were able to confirm the different stages of the nyatiti making process; learn additional details on sizes and measurements for resonators as well as for the arms and the head; note vernacular names of tools used for making a nyatiti (patas, pel, etc.); learn details on choice and procurement of nyatiti skin for the resonator; note on methods of attaching strings to the resonator; and confirm that transmission of skills was traditionally done solely by observation. Obong’o also spoke of 3 witchcraft stories associated to competitions and explained the fact that culturally there were no women players by their lack of energy and interest. Finally he corroborated the idea of traditional taboo concerning two nyatiti players of different generations from the same home playing.

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