Day 9 – Sunday 9th July 2017

The original concept of the Masters of the Nyatiti programme included a side segment focusing on the orutu ‐ a one‐string fiddle from the same community. Because of time limitations, this could not be done fully; yet the idea of instrument comparison remained and was reintroduced through an instrument comparison forum held on day 8 at the GoDown Arts Centre in Nairobi. We compared five instruments as follows, each represented by a master musician:

  1. Nyatiti – represented by Samson Otieno of Bomas of Kenya;
  2. Obokano – represented by Dominic Ogari;
  3. Litungu – an 7 string traditional lyre from the Luhya community, represented by Jackson Ingosi (Ingosi Junior);
  4. Kodo – represented by Olith Ratego who created the instrument;
  5. Classical guitar – represented by Peter Akwabi.

Aside from the classical guitar, which served as a perspective on comparing different traditional instruments to modern instruments, all of the four other string instruments involved fall under the category of lyres per definition of “a plucked string instrument with no fingerboard, having strings running parallel to the soundboard tied on a yoke at the upper end of the instrument” (1). According to Hornbostel– Sachs(2), all four would be classified as composite chordophones, more precisely under the 321.2 category of: “Yoke lutes or lyres – The strings are attached to a yoke which lies in the same plane as the sound‐table and consists of two arms and a cross‐bar.”

Through a group interview, we attempted to compare them in: size (size of resonator; length of arms and per extension of strings); materials of fabrication (types of wood); body parts (any specific additional parts and why); strings number; playing techniques (position of instrument; hands positioning and fingers involved in playing; plucking techniques); tuning and sound (central string, sound spectrum, twin strings, accompanying instruments in both traditional context and modern instrumental ensemble, technical innovations and developments); transmission methods; community occasions played in; taboos and beliefs surrounding the instrument; etc. We also attempted to establish if there was any contact and exchange between neighbouring communities that would give birth to common tunes or influence instruments’ shapes and music styles, etc.


1. Source: Wikipedia
2. The most widely used instruments classification system first devised in 1914 by musicologists Erich Moritz von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs; English version published much later in 1961; most current updated version: “Revision of the Hornbostel‐Sachs Classification of Musical Instruments by the MIMO Consortium” dates from 2011, published by Musical Instruments Museum.

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