06.06.2011, Words by Charlie Jones

Owiny Sigoma Band's Guide To Nairobi

Back in 2009, voluntary organisation The Art Of Protest invited a collection of London musicians out to Nairobi. The musicians – Louis Hackett, Jesse Hackett (formerly part of Damon Albarn’s Africa Express), Tom Skinner and Chris Morphitis – collaborated with local Kenyan musicians Joseph Nyamungo and Charles Owoko. The result is the self-titled debut album from Owiny Sigoma Band, released by Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings.

It’s a sprightly set of guitar jangles and African rhythms, soaking up and swinging to the musical backgrounds of the musicians from both parts of the world. Hear for yourself by streaming Wires on the right, which has also been remixed predictably brilliantly by Theo Parrish. Owiny Sigoma Band are set to play their debut London show at Cafe Oto this evening so we asked them to tell us about some of the places they discovered while out in Nairobi.

View Owiny Sigoma Band’s guide to Nairobi in a larger map

1. A place you stayed while over there?

We stayed in a really beautiful area of Nairobi called Lavington. We were very lucky to be put up in a Kenyan household and our host was incredibly kind and open to all of our late night shenanigans. We were always keen to go out at night (some of us slightly keener than others) and to check out as much of Nairobi as possible. He was always really cool about us rolling up in the early hours of the morning in various states!

2. A place you would work/record?

On our first visit to Nairobi, finding a studio that could accommodate a live band proved to be tricky. We visited a few different studios only to discover there was simply a PC and one mic (basically a midi set up). After a lot of sweating we found a studio in downtown Nairobi in a crazy old Soviet style tower block (much of which was seemingly abandoned). The building was right in the middle of a giant potato market! Following a number of technical issues we managed to record the first half of the album.

The second session was recorded in Black Rhino studio owned by Eric Wainaina. His place was really beautiful set in some amazing lush green gardens. Having said that, every time it rained the electricity died, so we had to keep the vibes burning with a few tuskers until the rain stopped and the power kicked in again.

3. A place that had a strong influence on the music you were making?

One of the most influential places we visited had to be the Kenyan National Theatre. That was where we first linked up with Joseph Nyamungu (nyatiti) and Charles Owoko (drums). The place is a real hub of artistic activity. They teach traditional music, dance and art, plus loads of other stuff going on all the time. It had an amazing energy and much of the musical inspiration was rooted in our time spent there.

4. A place you might go out while there?

Nairobi is full of crazy spots to check out. We often went to 3-4 places in a night in search of the best atmosphere. Some of these spots didn’t even seem to have a name. One of the maddest spots we visited was on the top floor of a block in Downtown. They were playing some of the weirdest down tempo electronic music I’ve ever heard (at first we thought they might have been playing 45’s at 33 but it sounded dope). The weirdest thing about the club was that it was also a butcher’s shop with a meat counter right next to the toilets….. ?

For good food, general ambience and a good soukos band, check Eddy’s Bar Town, or for late night disco action with lots of sleazy undertones try the famous Florida 2000. Alternatively we found some great reggae/ragga dancehall clubs in Eastlands on the main strip. Also the Carnivore Bar has local hip hop acts and a kind of watery Kenyan MTV atmosphere, for all you R&B fans.

5. A place that you think sums up the feel of the city best?

Eastlands is the biggest ghetto in Nairobi (housing nearly two thirds of the population). It’s really important to see how people live here. I think a lot of people travel to Kenya to go on safari, and are taken from place to place by taxi and never really get to see what is happening on the ground.
Visiting a studio run by Nairobi hip-hop kings, Ukoo Flani Mau Mau, right in the heart of Eastlands, was a truly enlightening and humbling experience. It’s amazing to see what these guys have achieved with so little.

6. A place that you think will always be memorable to you?

We were lucky enough to visit Lake Naivasha (3 hours outside of Nairobi). Some of the scenery as you enter the Rift Valley, is the most spectacular I have ever experienced. We stayed in the Fisherman’s Lodge by Lake Naivasha, which runs a great music festival each year called the Rift Valley Festival. We took some instruments along to the bar one night to have a jam with some local guys. Looking out over the grass to the Lake we realised a pod of 7 hippos had congregated and were happily grazing listening to the strange sounds we were making! Something I’ll never forget!

Brownswood Recordings released Owiny Sigoma Band’s album ‘Owiny Sigoma Band’ on 2nd May 2011 and will play Cafe OTO on 6th June 2011

Owiny Sigoma Band tour dates:

2 June – Sugar Factory, Amsterdam, Holland
3 June – Vooruit, Gent, Belgium
5 June – Fleche D’Or, Paris, France
6 June – Café OTO, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL, UK
9 July – Worldwide Festival, Sète, France
12 July – Blaze Festival, The Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS, UK
16 July – Shoreditch Festival, London N1, UK

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