ALBUM REVIEW: Rapasa Nyatrapasa Otieno – Jopango | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Released: 29.11.23







Jopango is a joyous exploration and documentation of singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rapasa Nyatrapasa Otieno’s journey around the world, but particularly focused on Kenyan heritage. Accompanied with his nyatiti, an eight-stringed two-necked lyre instrument, he has sought to curate his experience inspired by Western Kenyan Benga musical roots. He’s been slowly releasing individual tracks since late 2022, Unite, O Nelly Benga and the song Jopanga particularly receiving praise for their look at deep-rooted traditional style.

Musically the tone is considered and intimate, the plucked strings and chords of the nyatiti chime like a meandering riverbed over which Rapasa narrates his tales. The songs feel intentionally minimal, there’s no doubt too that a great deal of respect and reverence is being paid to the Benga music that inspires Rapasa’s own interpretations and how that in turn becomes a new form of Kenyan musical tale telling. Passing along the generational torch in many ways but keeping tradition at its core. Kibi Kibi is a tune given the freedom to ebb and flow, surging, sounding more enthused and employing more rhythms and voices, the contemporary vibe is palpable and vibrant.

Rapasa uses his musical practice, dance expertise and educator experience travelling from his Newcastle base to write on the road, forming fresh ideas originated in the home regions that inspire them. Rhythms and melodies are then distilled and reformed into what feels like an inspired mix of field recorded material and community inspired collaborations gathered from the many Kenyan villages on his journey, reflecting on the local issues, concerns and delights. As an album of engaging music, to otherwise unfamiliar Western ears like mine, there’s so much to delve into but it’s far from overwhelming.

It’s a rather mellow but very sophisticated album to appreciate and enjoy. There’s no doubt Jopango also serves an important purpose in keeping traditional Kenyan music alive and sharing as much as possible with non-African ears. A fascinating and engaging listen with so much invention and interest.


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