The result of a handful of London-based musicians travelling to Kenya to collaborate with local artists, Owiny Sigoma Band were formed in 2009 and have subsequently made a name for themselves with two albums’ worth of material that traverses the British-Luo connection. The band’s previous album, Power Punch, saw the more explicit introduction of synth elements and drum machines and an increased diversity in styles, a theme that is continued with their latest offering.
Titled Nyanza, the name of the Kenyan province largely inhabited by the Luo people and the home of two of the group’s members, the album emerged from a trip back to the region by the band. However, upon pressing play you might not know this; opener ‘(Nairobi) Too Hot’ is a catchy synth pop track that sounds much more like a completely British band than anything else. The second track however, ‘Luo Land’, is a hand-drum-heavy techno workout that immediately hits you with the band’s heritage before ‘Owour Won Gembe’ hypnotises with its repeating nyatiti (a traditional stringed instrument) lines and Luo vocals. Instead of being a replica of a traditional folk song though, unsettling synth lines that sound straight out of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2 give the track a distinctively modern feeling.
This stylistic variety exhibited within the first three tracks is a theme that is carried throughout the album, with catchy English-sung hazy pop songs rubbing shoulders with traditional Luo sounds, electronics and experimental excursions. ‘Tech 9’ is a dance-floor-filling, drum-machine-driven house track brimming with chanted Luo vocals, whilst ‘Nyanza Night’ perfectly combines traditional nyatiti music with indie rock sensibilities to end up sounding like a Kenya-infused Grizzly Bear. One of the album’s many highlights, ‘Ojoni Wopio’ is a grooving earworm with call and response vocals, whilst ‘Changaa Attack’ is its more electronic cousin, replacing stringed instruments with synthesisers. The album ends with the weirdness of ‘Jah Mic’, whilst those listening to the CD version are treated to the hauntingly pretty ‘Amolo Tienga’ as a bonus track.
According to the press release, a lot of the songs were recorded on the fly throughout the bands journey to Nyanza and decorated with field recordings they took whilst there. Listening through the album is a similarly thrilling journey, with each new track taking unexpected left turns that highlight not only the talent of the musicians but also their skill in bringing together their wealth of influences.
Owiny Sigoma Band’s Nyanza is out August 28th on Brownswood Recordings. Pre-order here.