The nyatiti is used in spiritual practice and to sing historical praise songs. But it can also accompany humorous songs, peppered with puns and proverbs, as well as songs delving into social realities. – Real World Records
You may recall Ayub Ogada ‘one of the greatest Kenyan artists of all time,’ the who brought the nyatiti to the world. Or you might remember Kothbiro, one of Ogada’s early compositions that was in the soundtrack of numerous films, including Constant Gardener (2004) and epic documentary Samsara (2011).
The nyatiti ninja inspires a young Dan Onyango to carry on his mission to take the instrument to greater heights.
The perspective on our own indigenous music and instruments is askew, quite visibly in East African contemporary spaces. We go to lengths to expand our minds with and to study forms of exotic expression; yet we know little of our own.
“One of the biggest challenges that comes with indigenous knowledge is that you have to search it from people who are already practicing to get this knowledge,” says Onyango.
Only a background in ethno-musicology or physical closeness to a community would warrant one’s knowledge of these cultural objects. As far as we know, the nyatiti is an instrument reserved for rural folk.
He wields the nyatiti, complex a weapon in the noble fight to keep ethnic expressions and indigenous narratives alive. His mission – to bridge the gap between the urban perspective held of the nyatiti and real narrative of the instrument, by adapting a rural instrument in a contemporary space.
“I’d like to bring the nyatiti to an urban setting, because it is possible for the young generation to embrace this instrument,” he adds that music is universal and has the ability reach to greater audiences.
Whether covering a Kenyan folk song, or singing an original tune, Onyango maintains an element of playful storytelling, heavy with undertones of strong community values, African virtue and positive vibes.
WiBO Culture had the pleasure of hosting the singer, songwriter, nyatiti player and rising star in Nairobi’s creative hub, The Alchemist (Art@TheBusWkend 3).
Onyango works with youth in the informal settlements of Eastlands, Nairobi to share knowledge, experience and open up possibilities and hope for the disenfranchised.
“We are responsible for our own future; I believe in the power of a creative community that is deeply rooted with humanity.”
Tune in to Stories From WiBO Culture for an close-up with Dan Onyango’s Nyatiti Stories.