from wiktionary: [NYATITI - /njɑːˈtiːti/ :// A traditional type of lyre with eight strings, used by the Luo people of Kenya.]
Kenyan nyatiti virtuoso DANIEL ONYANGO took the time to brave the winter cold and tour Michigan to kick off the unveiling of Dagoretti Records. Locals LAMINE SOUMA and ABBAS CAMARA back up the band with Guinean percussion, making this a truly Pan-African experience. DAVE SHARP of Ann Arbor, Michigan joins in on bass; frequently breaking into drone odysseys with a sitar pedal. I had the privilege of traveling with Dave to Nairobi early last year, where we first met Daniel performing at a fancy bar frequented by UN employees. Shooting in a nice bar with well-to-do expats was a surreal juxtaposition with the rest of the trip, but Daniel's musical ability and showmanship is very apparent and the spirit was reminiscent of any Nairobi dive. Maybe I'll put up pictures from that night, but not today.
Daniel took the 14 hour flight to the US, his second time ever, just to play nyatiti music at the A2 Distillery, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Ziggy's in Ypsilanti. Daniel operates a community center for underprivileged youth in Eastern Nairobi that includes creative workshops as a way of empowering the youth through the arts - similar to Ann Arbor's Neutral Zone.
At the time of this writing there are ~20 known nyatiti players in the world; of which 2 are non-African. They are said to be derived from the Mediterranean lyre, which spread down the Nile River into East Africa. The nyatiti as we know it was played in one specific Luo village on the shores of Lake Victoria. The use of traditional instruments in African music sharply declined in the 80s due to the AIDS epidemic claiming the lives of an entire generation of artists and musicians. This creative resource vacuum discouraged many young people from picking up and learning instruments on their own. Thus, much of the music in Africa falls into two categories: the first being traditional music funded by churches, with lyrics catering to whatever the church approves - usually poverty and Jesus. The second category is pop with synthesizers, which can be cool in its own right. The lyrics often stay true to form, being about partying, promiscuity and politics - but musically it lacks much of the soul and depth that you can get from analog instruments.
Dagoretti Records seeks not only to preserve, but to move music onward. What is regarded in the West as 'traditional' or 'world' music is really a living, breathing, evolving heritage of folk art expressing people's emotions and ideas in their own context and experiences. Dagoretti ['The Great'] originates in and is named for a neighborhood in Nairobi: a cosmopolitan city of 3 million, in a nation of around 68 ethnic affiliations divided among 47 million people. Dagoretti Records currently operates in Japan, Kenya, and the US.