To quote Sergent Blak, "Hello nice and decent people!" It's been a while. The song posted above is from our recording session with the traditional Turkana musician Peter Logono. We met up with Peter on December 20, 2010 in Maseno, a university town and major pit stop on the road between Kenya and Uganda. He was playing the Adungu, a 9 string goat skin covered harp, along with a painted washtub as a kick drum. Peter was a refugee from the embattled Turkana region of Kenya. Drought, cattle rustling and tribal warfare had forced him to migrate south, and we found him playing for the day drinking crowd at tin shack serving homebrew.
These were Peter's first recordings. At first he seemed nervous, rushed, and over eager to please. He played a song in broken English (Mary My Lover, available on our Soundcloud page) and then a couple songs in Swahili, one in support of Kenya's new constitution and another called "Obama Karibuni" (Welcome Obama) which fixated on Obama's Kenyan roots. It's probably the only thing Peter Logono and Donald Trump have in common (besides a penchant for wearing interesting shit on their heads).
I tried to make him comfortable, telling him to play whatever he'd like and not worry about us. He didn't drink, so I bought the gathered crowd busaa instead. Eventually, Peter warmed up, stopped catering to us, and began singing in his original Turkana. No one in the room could understand these songs, but somehow the new sounds fit better with the warm constant drone of the Adungu. His entire voice seemed to shift into a more comfortable range with the new language and even the jaded Kenyan busaa customers stopped drinking and listened intently. It was a pretty beautiful transition. The song posted above, Ero Akol, is my favorite of these Turkana songs. Peter tells me this song is a lament for home, and it truly sounds haunted and lonely. I have no way to corroborate the lyrics (Turkana speakers being hard to find in Kisumu, let alone Iowa), but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
While I was having a transcendent cross-cultural experience, Ozzy was dealing with the increasingly agitated club owner. We had asked to turn off the bar stereo in order to record Logono, and the owner, a wild eyed young man inexplicably dressed in a white lab coat, felt it was killing business. After all, nothing says "drink fermented corn brew" like Boys II Men singles played on burnt out speakers. So we had to cut the recording session short--a painful reminder that Logono was not doing well with this music business. We took him out to lunch and he told us he makes $2 on a good day. And while it's much better than what he'd be earning herding cattle back home in the Turkana region, it's nowhere near enough to pay for a wedding or even a place of his own. He was living with two other Turkana refugees in a small room several miles away. "I am ashamed to admit I'm already 24 and cannot afford to marry" he told us. Ozzy and I were shocked. After all these stories and the lines on his face, we assumed he was more like 40. "Do you know any nice Luo girls?" he asked me hopefully. I thought of all the fancy club girls I knew in Kisumu, but decided they probably wouldn't get along. Instead, we gave him a copy of the CD we recorded (the cover of which is posted above), a few dollars and, since he was no longer wanted at the busaa club, about 50 cents for bus fare home.
It's strange to remember these stories now, as I sit at a computer lab in Iowa with stressed out college students aggressively checking facebook all around me. New stories pop up all the time as I edit the footage or master the songs for CDs. I've been living in this lab hermit style, editing, growing out my beard, and watching that Kenya tan disappear along with my appetite and will to live. But! The pilot is basically finished now and it looks dope. The time has come to shave and head to LA. Keep checking back for more updates.