FOCUS: Rapasa Nyatrapasa Otieno | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

Narc. Magazine Online

Reliably informed

Image by Nyatiti NyaDala

Rapasa Nyatrapasa Otieno is a virtuoso of the nyatiti, a traditional eight-stringed lyre typically played around the shores of Nam Lolwe (Lake Victoria) in Kenya. The West Kenyan artist, now based in Newcastle, creates music which is deeply rooted in traditional storytelling from the Lüo community. Ukalo Matek, which is released on 26th April, is a mellow track which demonstrates Rapasa’s considerable skill with the nyatiti, filled with soft fingerpicking and hypnotic rhythms. Here, he tells us more about himself…

Who are you and where are you from?

My name is Rapasa Nyatrapasa Otieno from Siaya Western Kenya now based in Newcastle Upon Tyne

What is it you do?

I am a singer, songwriter, nyatiti player, contemporary dancer, and a traditional music educator. 

How long have you been doing it?

I have been actively practising arts for over ten years.

What inspires you? 

My art is deeply rooted in my tradition such as current and past practices as well as folk tales of the Lüo tribe of Western Kenya. Current events and my surroundings also form an important part of my inspiration. 

Tell us about your music

Most of my work is based on the storytelling of the Lüo tribe from Western Kenya. Although I play many East African instruments, my main one is called nyatiti and is an eight-string lyre found mostly in Western Kenya and traditionally practised by some members of the Lüo community. I learnt it in a very traditional setting which can be heard at the core of my sound. I sing mostly in Dholuo which is my native language. Having spent most of my upbringing around the ‘village’ (countryside) and Nam Lolwe, my family and community issues were and are still often addressed in parables, narratives and praises. My songs reflect this. It is a way to keep tradition and pass information to another generation, this is not limited to nyatiti music only but also other forms of entertainment among the Lüo community. While my music is deeply rooted in tradition it is a very contemporary interpretation of the world we live in today.

What have you got coming up in the future?

After the success of my album KWECHE, released in 2021, I am following up with my next album JOPANGO which is due for release on the 29th November. Extracted from this album I am releasing a few singles including Ukalo Matek on 26th April. I had the pleasure to write and compose this work while I was on the road, touring different parts of the world and my region Siaya while investigating more about Lüo tradition and music. This time was intense in terms of inspiration, even more so as during these travels I was reading into the connection of Benga music and the nyatiti.

I recently started a community interest company called Nyatiti NyaDala so when I am not writing, producing and releasing new music I am looking to build momentum and partnerships in projects such as East African school workshops, innovative and sustainable instrument making research and development and outreach programs under the umbrella of Nyatiti Kila Mahali. For the latter I will be posting on social media where you can find out more about East African music and practices. These will be in the form of free performances with an option to donate to Nyatiti NyaDala to keep the project running.

Where can people find out more about you?

Visit my website and listen to/buy my music via Bandcamp. Find me on social media here.

Like this story? Share it!

Subscribe to our mailout