Owiny Sigoma Band // New Album // Nyanza
June 15, 2015
‘Nyanza’ is the third album from the genre defying Owiny Sigoma Band. For this offering, the band travelled to the Nyanza Province of Western Kenya – home of their two members: Joseph Nyamungu and Charles Owoko – to explore the birthplace of Luo music. Released August 28th.
(Nairobi) Too Hot
Owour Won Gembe
I Made You / You Made Me
Fishermans Camp pt 1
Deep Kisumu Fish
Amolo Tienga (CD Bonus track)
This is a complex, constantly evolving, musical relationship now in its fifth year. The band have produced music in both Kenya, for their self-titled 2009 album, and in London for 2012’s electrifying Power Punch LP. The group features nyatiti master Joseph Nyamungu and Lou percussionist Charles Owoko, both from the Luo tribe of Western Kenya, as well as London-based musicians Tom Skinner (drums), Jesse Hackett (vox/keys) and Louis Hackett (bass).
Nyanza follows a loose narrative of the group’s trip upcountry to Nyanza, from the hectic urban environments that inspired “Power Punch”, to a place that is more “out there”. (Nairobi) Too Hot’, provides an uneasy reminder of Kenya’s recent troubles, with its distant echo of gunfire. The album continues with the gently hypnotic sounds of ‘Owour Won Gembe’ – an effort to capture the quiet moments of Joseph singing and playing quietly to himself that they had witnessed on the road together. ‘Luo Land” and the rapturous ‘Changaa Attack’ will hypnotise any dance floor. The joyous ‘I Made You / You Made Me’ (written for Jesse Hackett’s daughter) was his response to the “purely happy” Kenyan pop the band heard in the bars and on the radio. The album’s centrepiece ‘Nyanza Night’ tells the story of the night they travelled off road to the rural village where Joseph and Charles live. The band provided a cow and a generator, and got to play live to an audience made up of Luo people from the surrounding area, followed by a 12 hour Nyatiti sound clash – drummer Tom Skinner recalls “really heavy music and a lot of Changaa (Changaa – also called ‘Kill Me Quick’ is a homebrew rumoured to contain jet fuel and battery acid). This was one of the most magical nights that I’ve ever had. In the middle of nowhere, in the outback of Kenya, under the stars. I don’t think I’ve ever really felt so far away from my normal life.”
Mirroring their journey, the music on this record sees the band move forward sonically, rolling through a myriad of influences – juju, shangaan electro, dub, techno, and 80s synth pop jostle alongside each other in a way that all feels utterly natural alongside the traditional Luo sounds of the region. Much of the instrumentation was recorded on the fly. The band carried sound cards, and mics and set up mobile studios where they could, songs were jammed out spontaneously in the kitchen of their rented house in Kisumu, ‘Fisherman’s Camp’ was lifted straight from a live jam up in the hills near Lake Naivasha, and other tracks were recorded in a “concrete bunker” of a studio run by a rasta named Jah Mic (the band dedicated the final track on the album to him). Ambient and “found” sounds of the trip pervade the record – chickens crowing, rainstorms, the crowd at Fisherman’s Camp. The band persuaded some fisherman’s kids hanging around the house to jump on the chorus of “Changaa Attack”. The music always feels raw and organic, the rhythms and sounds reflecting the spontaneous creative energy between this group of musicians who have found a way of communicating across culture, language and generation.
Nyanza is a truly unique record, a faultless melting pot of disparate sounds, reflecting the environments in which it was made, creating yet another pivotal moment in the turning cogs of this intoxicating, often surprising, soundclash.
*The Nyatiti is a five to eight-stringed plucked lyre played by the Luo people of Western Kenya, typically in Benga music.