owiny sigoma band talk
Brownswood signees Owiny Sigoma Band meld the music of Kenya with the sound of London to create a sound all of their own. Having recently toured with Atoms For Peace on the back of their excellent second LP, Power Punch, we caught up with bassist Louis Hackett for a chat taking in the warmth of Nairobi, the origins of the band’s name and songs about cats…
Hello! The first thing I wanted to ask is when you got into Kenyan music and what drove you to decide to go out to Kenya back in 2009?When we first travelled to Kenya in 2009, none of us from the UK had much idea of the musical scene. Although we had all listened to a fair bit of east African music from Zimbabwe, none of us had much idea what to expect when we arrived in niarobi- but that was a big part of the appeal, stepping into the unknown is always an interesting zone.In 2009, five of us from London were invited to visit Kenya by a small charity called ‘The art of Protest’. With a loosely arranged agenda, we were linked up with various local musicians to exchange ideas, jam, drink beers, talk and hang out.Having met a number of musicians and artists, we were introduced to Joseph Nyamungu and Charles Owooko and instantly hit a strong musical and spiritual stride. The Owiny Sigoma Band was born and 4 years later and were still at it.
How were you initially received out there, did you have connections or were you just strolling up to musicians introducing yourselves?Contrary to popular belief – Niarobi is one of the warmest and most open cities I’ve ever visited. We were met with amazing hospitality and energy where ever we went. Obviously being connected musically made a massive difference in the places we were able to visit (kibera being one of the biggest eye openers for us). All the musicians we connected with were really open to collaboration and we had a lot of fun in the process of working it all out…
Were you specifically looking for nyatiti and nyiduonge players when you headed out, or was it more of an open, exploratory remit?None of us from the band had any real knowledge of Luo music, so the Nyatiti and the Nyiduonge drums were a real revelation. Once Joseph started to sing and we had the lyrics translated, we were all hooked on his wit and charm. The first song he performed for us was about a cat that belonged to a husband and wife. When the husband dies, the cat is shocked to find a new man taking the old husbands place (and kicking the cat when ever the wife isn’t looking)….straight up Blues…..How did you name the band, what does Owiny Sigoma mean?Owiny Sigoma is actually the name of Josephs great great grand father (also a master nyatiti player who josephs instrument originally belonged to). The bands name is a homage to the elders and the knowledge and music they have brought into the world.Theres a shift in sound on Power Punch compared to your debut LP, I really liked the first but it definitely feels that this one is you finding your own way. Have you grown in confidence as a group since you started out?Our original album was recorded in Niarobi and I think the sound of the record is reflected in that environment. The second record ‘power punch’ was recorded here in London. We wanted to sonically incorporate some of the vibes of London whilst trying to stay true to the roots element of the Luo music that we were so powerfully drawn to on our first trip to Kenya. It’s always a bit of a risk taking two worlds of music and mangling it together- it can work to great effect, but it can just as easily turn into a pile of crud, so we had to be fairly sensitive and simultaneously brutal in the decision making.As with all groups, time and experience brings trust and understanding of each others merits. Having worked together for 4 years now, I think we all have a greater understanding and confidence in the identity of our group as well as each of us individually.? Do you prefer playing live or the writing process?Nothing beats the feeling of performing infront of a buzzing crowd of people. The energy transfer is contagious and addictive. Having said that, with out material and the time and craft that’s put into the recording process we wouldn’t have the opportunity to play the gigs we have done. So its a chicken and egg scenario.
When writing and recording your material, do you pretty much jam it out as a band and go with the best takes or is it a more gradual process, recording instruments separately and building up the tracks over time?Our recording process has always been greatly dictated by time restraints. As Joseph and Charles were only visiting London (on tour last year) we had to concentrate most of the initial recording session on their two elements (and Tom Skinner on Kit). We then took those recordings and built around the Nyatiti and drum elements adding and subtracting as we felt best suited the material. The whole album took about 6 months of nob twiddling and overdubbing- but considering its all recorded in my Mums front room- I think we were all pretty satisfied with the outcome.
Hows it going touring with Atoms For Peace and how did the hook up come about?
?We were actually in Zanzibar playing at a festival when we were first given the news about Thom Yorkes interest in having us join him with the Atoms for Peace tour. Obviously we were completely blown away by the fact that he’d not only been checking out our music, but wanted us to come along on the European leg of the Atoms for Peace tour. We are all great fans of his work throughout the years so it was a massive honour for us. The whole experience was really powerful and inspiring. Their whole band were really good to us and we had a real laugh following the crazy musical caravan on it’s windy path through Europe.
Have you played many gigs in Kenya or across Africa?We haven’t played in Africa nearly as much as we would like to have as of yet. Aside from a single gig in Kenya and traveling to Zanzibar earlier this year, we are yet to see how our music is going to work on African audiences. We are lucky enough to be traveling to the Reunion Islands this September to play at a festival which we’re all really looking forward to. Hopefully there is a lot more to come in this department!
Finally, What have you got in store for the rest of the year?Aside from concert in The Reunion islands, we are currently putting another European tour scheduled in late October, so please keep your ears peeled for us around that time…..