tue 04/08/2020

CD: Owiny Sigoma Band - Nyanza | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Owiny Sigoma Band - Nyanza

CD: Owiny Sigoma Band - Nyanza

Anglo-Kenyan collaboration proves captivating

Nyanza: the province of western Kenya explored

Nyanza is the province of western Kenya where this intriguing Anglo-Kenyan, inter-generational five-piece recorded their third album, exploring the region in which the Luo people created their music. The Kenyan contingent, nyatiti (a plucked lyre) master Joseph Nyamungu and Luo percussionist Charles Owoko are both from that tribe, with Londoners Tom Skinner (drums), Jesse Hackett (vox/keys) and Louis Hackett (bass) making up the remainder. There’s a narrative arc of sorts, as the music traces the band’s journey from opening track “Nairobi (Too Hot)” into Nyanza, with a centerpiece, “Nyanza Night”, depicting a remote, rural evening gig for the Luo people.

It’s an incredibly inventive, well-integrated sound. Sometimes Nyamungu sings, sometimes Hackett, and there are choruses of local people, but the seams disappear in a mesmerising blur of beats. The engagingly dense acoustic percussion of Owoko and Skinner dovetails as beautifully as the singers, the electronic dance rhythm settling homogeneously into Luo groove. The sense of place is enhanced by the presence of stray sonic atmosphere (aka background noise), sometimes constructed artificially (the gunfire on “Nairobi (Too Hot)”, a poignant reminder of recent violence in that city) and sometimes absorbed from the location, as in the case of the chickens and crowd noise. Most of the tracks were recorded in temporary studios in the field, which also contributes to the organic sense of cultural engagement.   

The band isn’t afraid of the allure of pop: there are echoes of sugary Kenyan pop in "I Made You/You Made Me" (written for Jesse Hackett’s daughter), with juju and 80s synth swirling in the mix. But this is serious world music, with unquestionable substance, not just the picturesque, fancy-dress melody that sometimes passes for it. It’s so disparate a sound it needs repeated listens to worm into your ear, but once there, it will fascinate and tantalise. You can dance to it too.

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