The Lost Tapes

05/11/2021Luo Traditions Meet Electronic Experimentation As The Owiny Sigoma Band Presents Its Fourth Exploratory Album

Six years have passed, since the cross-cultural and cross-generational Owiny Sigoma Band released its thrilling third album "Nyanza" on Brownswood Recordings, presenting a collaborative project rooted in cultural exchange: "A coming together of traditional East African musical philosophies and a more electronically-inclined London sensibility," the release notes describe, a sound marked by "intricate percussive frameworks"  and "impressive musical chemistry."  Last week marked the release of the group's fourth album "The Lost Tapes", a ten track collection of "rough cuts, re-edits and rarities," but also a tribute to original Luo band member Charles Owoko, who sadly passed away in 2015, shortly after their third album's release.

"The project has always been a massive experiment," says Louis Hackett (bass), who took part in an exchange project in Kenya in 2009 with his brother Jesse Hackett (vox/keys) and school friend Tom Skinner (drums), where they were introduced to local musicians Joseph Nyamungu and the late Charles Owoko, both singers yet specialising in different Luo instruments. While Nyamungu excelled in playing the Nyatiti, a stringed lute popular in western Kenya, Owoko played the Nyiduonge drum. And so their collaboration took shape, gaining them critical acclaim, but also an increasingly deeper understanding of each other, as reflected in their emotive, ever-expanding musical creations. “There was never any agenda," Jesse notes. "It was always an open dialogue whereby things would be suggested and we would then all explore those ideas.”

"The Lost Tapes" is actually split into two halves, recorded in Uganda and completed in Kenya, with the latter half containing "a number of recordings that Charles Owoko completed towards the end of his life – music that both Jesse and Louis Hackett descrive as 'stirring but special' – both a reminder and celebration of the pivotal role [he] played in the band's growth." Building on mutual curiosity, trust and respect, "The Lost Tapes" also introduces two new instruments to the mix, featuring Ugandan musician Lawrence Okelo on the Amadinda xylophone and the Adungu, "an arched harp which varies between seven and ten strings, made from hollowed-out wood." In a nutshell, these tracks provide both an invigorating and a meditative experience, oddly comforting at times, warm and welcoming, growing deeper with each listen and revealing new elements to any concentrated listener's delight.

You can stream/buy the full album on Bandcamp and (re-)watch the 20-minute documentary to "Nyanza" below. Bless up! 

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom