Fusing a traditional African sound - in this case the Luo folk songs of Kenya - with contemporary Western styles has once again proved an easy transition. The concept is far from new. ‘World’ music by definition seeks to draw inspiration from a variety of cultures. Damon Albarn, a guest organ player on this recording, had his own African collaboration with 2002’s Mali Music.
A brief introduction to Luo then: our teacher shall be Joseph Nyamungu, a master of the nyatiti (an eight string lyre) whose knowledge of his traditional tribal music remains unparalleled. As part of the Owiny Sigoma Band he is joined by Charles Owoko, a drummer specialising in traditional Luo rhythms. The band’s namesake is Joseph’s grandfather. “He died a long time ago,” says Joseph. “The songs are based on Luo folk songs and are all written by me. I usually walk while singing a song, or just dream them.”
Perhaps the most successful fusion of genres here is on Margaret Okudu Dub, one of Albarn’s guest tracks. The drums, bass and echoed reverb vocals fit very well with the general feel of the project, as do the otherworldly squeaks and blips that are typical of a contemporary dub track. Albarn proves once again to be something of a musical chameleon.
In contrast, a moment of clarity came in my Luo education with track seven and Owegi Owandho. The track is a sparse example of a traditional Luo folk song. The nyatiti chord plucks are simple, quick and raw, selected by Joseph through his deep rooted ancestral knowledge. He accompanies his instrument with clicks and whistles. His vocals are both hypnotic and urgent, and the track closes as the nyatiti rhythm is given direction by Joseph’s panted breaths. Although this has proven to be a successful fusion album, it’s a joy to hear the nyatiti in its traditional form.