Two Takes on the Nyatiti / by Cyrus

Greetings from Raw Music HQ (aka my bedroom in Chicago).

I've written a lot about the legendary Orono and the nyatiti (a traditional 8-string harp) he plays. For those of you not familiar with the story, you can check out this video of the man at work.

Orono plays at a busaa (homebrew) club in Nyawara. Or at least he did until he was displaced by a stereo system blasting Boyz II Men. His job is to keep half-drunk elderly farmers dancing for hours on end. He blasts out variations on a rhythmic theme while keeping beat with his leg, adorned with a metal toe-ring and bells. You can hear the ancient Kenyan equivalent of a club jam here:

Orono- Live Nyatiti Jam, Kenya by RawMusicInternational

But the Raw Music team also had the rare opportunity to hear Orono play in a much more intimate setting. I had taken him aside to conduct an interview. About 10 people had gathered when Orono, probably annoyed by my busaa-addled interview technique, stopped talking and just started playing.

Without the burden of a room full of volatile septugenarians to entertain, Orono began improvising. He'd pick up and discard different rhythmic patterns until he found one that fit. Sometimes he'd vamp for several bars, but as soon as you were lulled by the repetitive rhythm, he'd subtly switch it up in dizzying patterns. The following audio sample is a bit from this session, and it highlights the versatility of the instrument at Orono's hands:

Raw Music International: Orono Plays Nyatiti in a Quiet Spot (Kenya Traditional) by RawMusicInternational

LaFam, Kisumu rapper and producer extraordinaire, was there running sound and it was during this session that the two teamed up for one of my favorite rap freestyles of all time (old time readers have seen this, but here it is again):

In other news, Raw Music was featured on the exciting site Afro-Punk and MTV.com

Finally, if you want a physical copy of some of the exclusive music Raw Music recorded in Kenya, we have CDs for sale at this link ENJOY!