Saturday, October 25, 2014

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Review – Power Punch

Owiny Sigoma Band's new album offers an electronic twist on Kenyan folk rhythms.
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Owiny Sigoma Band has settled into a consistent stride with their second release, honing everything that made their eponymous debut one of the cross-cultural highlights of 2011. That album proved successful in mixing traditional Kenyan Luo rhythms with an urban lounge groove. The importance of the band’s ancestry was outlined by front man Joseph Nyamungu, who named the project after his grandfather. Here, Nyamungu has playfully donned a Run DMC style hat and necklace, a hint that Owiny Sigoma is subjecting Luo to a further digital rework.

Power Punch instantly comes across as a much more electronic album, with the 8-stringed nyatiti lyre, probably the signature instrument of the band, never far from a keyboard bleep or computerised drum loop. To emphasise how bold this juxtaposition is, consider how entrenched in ancestral knowledge – passed down through generations, never dehumanised by a recording device – Nyamungu previously advertised his nyatiti to be. This is a good time for an African/European band to experiment with electronica, with South Africa’s rising techno scene being an exciting contemporary African branch. The afropop influenced ‘Harpoon Land’ again suggests Owiny Sigoma are looking beyond Kenya for African inspiration, while the lightning quick Luo percussion on ‘Margret Aloor’ makes it sound like an afrobeat track with the tempo cranked up.

Perhaps the shift towards electronic music comes from Power Punch being recorded in London rather than Nairobi. Brothers Jesse Hacket (vocals, keyboards) and Lewis Hacket (bass) are better integrated, pushing a similar but significantly more upbeat Krautrock/Warp Records style ambience. As Nyamungu’s vocals chant back and forth through this constant but never oppressive wall of sound, the familiar (at least to fans of Owiny Sigoma’s debut) Luo melodies come in to firmly root the group to a particular spot in rural Kenya. This is where the Owiny Sigoma spaceship has landed, creating an electronic age album with a very real, always fun-loving, human pulse.

Power Punch is released by Bronswood RecordingsOwiny Sigoma Band are offering a free download of key track Margret Aloor here.

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