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about

Oduor Nyagweno is one of the last great, elder nyatiti players in Kenya. Daniel Onyango represents a young generation of playing just now coming onto the Kenyan scene after years and years of musical stagnation. Pete Larson is a guitar player and label guy from the US who somehow found himself associated with these two great people after moving to Kenya.

The songs on this record are six exclusive recordings from a recording we did for the forthcoming album from Nyagweno, comprising three songs compositions from Dan and three tunes we recorded outside for a video shoot. These special tracks will only be available here and will not appear on the LP.

However, this record is more than just a simply collection of songs. It represents both a bridging of generations and cultures but also a new direction for the nyatiti, an eight stringed lyre like instrument from Western Kenya and associated with Luo speaking people from the Siaya region, south of Kisumu. Once common throughout the Siaya region, it is now slowly fading away as the old guard dies off and young people move on to Western and modern African forms. Nyagweno's songs are alive and well, but the audience for his kind of music is limited linguistically and every shrinking due to the pressures of time.

Dan Onyango is an educated, Kikuyu speaking Luhya raised in the rough Kariobangi neighborhood of Nairobi. He was attracted to the instrument during high school. "There are 1000's of guitar players, I wanted something that would set me apart," he said, and he approached Nyagweno, who lived in nearby Korogocho, for lessons. Nyagweno was insistent then Dan finish his schooling but agreed to teach him what he knew.

Since then, Dan has become a prominent community organizer and leader, working with troubled kids in the area, but has also carved out a solid career as a talented musician. He has taken what used to be a gritty instrument from an isolated region of Kenya, to an instrument and a musical form that can be appreciated by anyone, inside or outside Kenya. Dan fuses the nyatiti with modern African musical forms and instrumentation and sings in the traditional Luo as well as English, Kikuyu and Swahili, creating a truly international music and, not least, given the diversity and complexity of the Continent, a truly African music.

Pete Larson came to Kenya in 2011 as a PhD epidemiologist working in public health in Western Kenya. In past lives, he was a musician and label owner and has long been fascinated with oddball musical forms. Through an unexpected turnof events, he became associated first with Dan Onyango and then Nyagweno and has been learning and playing the nyatiti for the past year. He approached Dan and Nyagweno about doing a record and here are the results. He has yet to play the nyatiti very well and can't remember Luo lyrics but is working to bring the instrument and the music to the international stage. He lives in the Dagoretti area of Nairob and enjoys beef tongue from the old lady in Baba Dogo. He is the only white guy in Nairobi who drives a Probox which provides him with ample interaction with the police.

Old man Nyagweno needs no introduction in Kenya. He is a veteran nyatiti player and story teller from the Ugenya region of Siaya in Western Kenya. He picked up the instrument when we was 14 years after it came to him in a dream. He was magically able to play the instrument the next day. Since then he has performed all over the world, for several Kenyan and US Presidents and taught most of the current generation of nyatiti players in Nairobi.

The songs: "Dodo" is a traditional song about drinking in the hoods. Meant somewhat as a warning and somewhat as a song of local caricature, it warns people not to get caught drinking when the police arrive. Every Kenyan knows this song. "Wakariro" is a traditional Kikuyu children's song. It is worth mentioning that the song is uncharacteristic for the nyatiti, the songs for which are traditionally performed by and sung in Luo. "Nitarudi" is a based on a Luhya folk tale where a boy leaves his mother but promises one day to return. "Koblo" is probably the most famous nyatiti song out there. It's a song of self praise about how the singer is going to bring good times times to all, wherever s/he goes. "Maya Thumwa Manyaka Nene" is a shout out to traditional culture and Luo musical heritage.

Songs 1,2 and 3 were recorded at ADA Creative Studios in Nairobi, Kenya with Kaboge Chagala and Tomo Tsukahara on percussion during the sessions for the Oduor Nyagweno and the Nyatiti Attack record. The details of that session will appear on the full record when it is released.

Songs 4, 5 and 6 were recorded at Bega kwa Bega in Baba Dogo, Nairobi, Kenya. We had been doing a video shoot for Dan Onyango's band Africa Jambo Beats and asked if the old man might want to come over and be part of it. When Nyagweno arrived, he was completely lit, having been drinking with some friends early in the morning. We asked him to do a couple of songs, put a nyatiti in his hands and off he went. Even in a completely inebriated state, he plays with a skill and enthusiasm that is truly unmatched. I have seen a lot of sides of the old man, but this day was truly special. We did three tunes and he immediately left when he was done and went back to the bar. He called me hourly after that to thank me and hit me up drinking money.

These six tunes reflect the father/son like relationship between the old man and Dan. Nyagweno is supportive of Dan, but often doesn’t understand what he is trying to do with the instrument. Because of this, Nyagweno was insistent that the songs be included on a separate release, so that’s what we did. And it turned out to be a great idea. The first three songs are with Dan singing and Nyagweno playing and singing backup. It was incredibly meaningful to watch. The last three songs were Nyagweno driven with Nyagweno playfully catching Dan on mistakes and shortfalls, like any other teacher would to a beloved student.

I mostly sat back and watched.

credits

released May 9, 2017

Oduor Nyagweno - Vocals, Nyatiti
Daniel Onyango - Vocals, Nyatiti
Pete Larson - Nyatiti, Vocals
Kaboge Chagala - Percussion, Vocals
Tomo Tsukahara - Percussion, mouth harp

Tracks 1-3 recorded at ADA Creative, Nairobi, Kenya, January, 2016
Tracks 4-6 recorded outside at Bega kwa Bega, Baba Dogo, Nairobi, Kenya December 29, 2016

Video for tracks 1-3 shot by Coin Crowley and Jason Patinkin
Engineered by Ayrosh Collo

Cover art by Movenpicks Arts in Dagoretti, Nairobi, Kenya

Thanks to Matthew Swallow, Rapasa, Mike Foster, Susan Kahara, Reuben Besa and Mark Maynard.

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