The OneBeat Podcast

The Sounds of Kenya's Past, Present & Future Part I

Episode Summary

In this episode, guest produced by Nyokabi Kariũki, Kenyan musicians and music-lovers share how they are using sound and music to recount stories of the country’s past, present, and to foretell its future.

Episode Notes

“What role does sound play when it comes to archiving our history, and our culture? Can sound tell us things about our past that other forms of archiving cannot?” 

Kenyan composer and Found Sound Nation  collaborator Nyokabi Kariũki investigates these questions through the lens of Kenyan musicians and music-lovers who work with sound and music to share, archive and even foretell the stories of their culture. In this first episode of two parts, we hear from Jimmy Rugami, a vinyl dealer who has collected thousands of African vinyl records and sells them in the bustling Kenyatta Market; DJ Raph, one of the pioneers of the Nairobi underground electronic scene, whose futurist vision led him to start a digital archive of field recordings of Nairobi taken over the years. Lastly, OneBeat 2013 alumna Kasiva Mutua shares the work she’s done as both a solo musician and the founder of MOTRA music, challenging taboos around who can be the keepers, or preservers, of traditional culture. 

The episode includes vibrant music spanning across decades, from Kenyan household names in the 80s, to some of the present day music bridging folk traditions and technology to create new visions of the future.  Check out the accompanying Youtube playlist here!

Produced and Edited by Nyokabi Kariũki and Jeremy Thal

Mixed by Jeremy Thal

Executive Producers: Jeremy Thal, Elena Moon Park, and Kyla-Rose Smith

Featuring: Jimmy Rugami, DJ Raph, and Kasiva Mutua 

OneBeat is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, & produced by Bang on a Can’s Found Sound Nation.

Episode Transcription

DJ Raph: I have a problem with this image of this European explorer coming into the village to find out how these people live. I don’t want to be studied. I just want us to own our process. 

Elena: Hello and welcome back to the third episode of The OneBeat Podcast: Season 2. I’m Elena Moon Park. 

Kyla: And I’m Kyla-Rose Smith. This year we are celebrating 10 years of OneBeat programming. For the past decade we have been meeting and working with incredible artists in highly collaborative settings – sharing our creative processes, our artistry, and our vision of how music and sound can make a positive impact in the world. With a global network of over 400 musicians spread across 60 countries, OneBeat has redefined music diplomacy, bringing musical collaboration into civic discourse with the aim of encouraging meaningful cross-cultural dialogue, rejuvenating local economies, inspiring youth, and helping to build more just and egalitarian societies around the world. 

Elena: In this episode, we're doing things a little differently. We’re going to hand things over to Kenyan composer and Found Sound Nation collaborator Nyokabi Kariũki, who’s investigating how Kenyan music-makers are working with sound to share, archive and even foretell the stories of their culture.

Across two episodes, Nyokabi speaks to four musicians, three of which you hear in this first episode: Jimmy Rugami, a vinyl dealer who’s been collecting records across East Africa since 1985; DJ Raph, who’s lit a fire in the underground electronic music scene in Nairobi, building several communities — from a performance venue underneath an abandoned mall, to creating a digital archive of field recordings of the city, and finally, OneBeat 2013 Fellow Kasiva Mutua, who shares the work she’s done as both a solo musician and the founder of all-female percussion group MOTRA music.

Kyla: Through these interviews that Nyokabi conducted in the field, in January 2022 (two thousand and two), you’ll be transported on a journey through Kenya’s bustling capital, hearing some of the vibrant music that's been bubbling up in the East African nation and meeting some of the creative minds behind its creation. 

We invite you to enjoy this first portrait of the sounds of Kenya’s past, present, and future. A very special shout out to the producer, curator and our guide through the streets of Nairobi, the incredible artist, Nyokabi Kariuki. Check out her work if you haven’t yet! 

Audio: Sound of Nairobi [SON000237]

Nyokabi: Nairobi is just full of so many interesting sounds. Wherever you go, whenever you go, there’s just something happening. At home, I’d hear whistling mosquitos in my ear when I was trying to fall asleep; and in the day, I’d hear the pitter-patter of monkey footsteps on our rooftops. If I went outside to get my hair braided or to see some friends, or to go to the markets, there was always this multilingual chatter, of people speaking the dozens of ethnic languages that are native to the country, from Luo to Kamba to Kikuyu. There’s just always something happening in Nairobi.

Music underscore

As a composer now, my work is inspired by this, by African sensibilities and thought, and by African sounds. I always want to get my hands on anything that can take me back to the sounds that were a part of my growing up, to sounds that are a part of our collective history: songs that I’ve heard in weddings, that’ve been passed down for centuries; music by African pop legends like Brenda Fassie or Oliver Mtukudzi that I’d find in my parents’ CD collection; even just field recordings taken by visiting ethnographers that I’d stumble upon in esoteric online communities. Sounds have always been a part of our story as people from the African continent.

The thing with this kind of research, is that it comes with having to wrestle with our colonial past. Because of it, there is a lot of our culture that is missing — that was forcefully taken, distorted, erased. So when you fast-forward to today, the information is not always easy to find, or recover. 

That’s why I’m curious about the idea of archiving and preservation. For decades, there have been a lot of archiving efforts going on, which have made large strides towards restoring some of what we’ve lost. However, these efforts have been overwhelmingly ocular — that is to say, reliant on the visual: photographs, videos, paintings. So as someone who works with music, and with sound, I tend to wonder: 

What role does sound play when it comes to archiving our history, and our culture? Can sound tell us things about our past, that other forms of archiving cannot? 

I speak to some Nairobi-based musicians and music lovers, who have been asking these same questions, but are responding in vastly different, yet equally fascinating ways.

In this episode, you’ll meet Jimmy Rugami, a vinyl dealer whose collection ranges between 50-60,000 records, majority of them being African records, and some of the music has been pressed as far back as the 1930s, he claims.

You’ll then meet DJ Raph, one of the pioneers of the Nairobi underground electronic scene. He started a digital archive called “Sound of Nairobi”, that contains dozens of field recordings of the city, taken over the past few years;

Lastly, you’ll meet OneBeat alumna Kasiva Mutua, who carries, at her fingertips, so much cultural knowledge of traditional Kamba and African drumming — and she shares the work she’s done for over a decade, in challenging taboos around who can be the keepers, or preservers, of traditional culture. 

Music Interlude: Les Wanyika - Nakupenda

Let’s go meet the real vinyl guru, Jimmy Rugami!

[Music continues]

[Audio: field recording [“Oh, Nyokabi? Karibu, karibu, umefika..”]

Jimmy’s is Stall 570, in Kenyatta Market, a popular outdoor market in Nairobi. On the way through the market, I pass through some hair braiders; and then some meat roasters. 

[Audio: meat sizzling, music continues]

There are all kinds of records around this store: 7-inch, 10-inch, 12-inch. There’s also all kinds of vintage media machines, like cassette players, televisions and cameras — and vinyl players, of course.

[Music continues]

And now, here’s Jimmy, sporting his signature look - an ivy cap, and a bold smile, revealing a missing front tooth. 

Jimmy Rugami: Mm, my name is James Rugami. I am a vinyl records dealer, and I also do restoration of players, since 1985.

Every time I find the records somewhere, however much they cost — I’d rather rob a bank [Nyokabi: [laughs]] and make sure I end up with them [laughs]. Although it's becoming very hard to find African music these days in vinyl, and mostly when you find them, you find them in bad condition and you see, they are not being pressed. But well, I get some records every now and then, including places that you can’t, uh, really imagine. 

Nyokabi: Like where?

Jimmy: Like in the slums. In fact, the last time I crossed a border looking for records should be more than four years. [Yes.] Like how I normally take a trip of, sometimes even a whole month, moving around; just take my very old car manufactured in 1967 before you were born, slowly, and…The last trip I made was to southern Tanzania, a small town called, Iringa. I started now climbing slowly, picking some there, picking some there, picking some there, until the car was bending backwards. [laughs]

I’ve overheard people, while buying records — there's one particular time I was in uh, central Ethiopia, in quite a big town called Hawassa, and I overheard somebody asking, “How can a man come all the way from Nairobi looking for records? This must be a very sick man.” 

Nyokabi: I was wondering if Jimmy goes on these trips alone, or if he’s accompanied by somebody.

Jimmy: [Exhales]. I normally don't find company. Finding somebody who will understand why I am doing such kind of thing [yeah], who will actually be like a soulmate [yes], is hard. You see it’s like eh, kind of therapeutic. You don’t want some disturbance or something, you just go do it slowly. [Yeah.]

Music Interlude: Ochieng Kabaselleh - Atieno Maziwa na

Nyokabi: And what are some of Jimmy’s favourite [Kenyan] artists?

Jimmy: [Laughs] My favorite Kenyan? I liked listening to Ochieng Kabasele a lot, even if I don't understand the language.

[Music continues]

Nyokabi: Ochieng Kabaselleh was one of our most renowned guitar musicians. He would sing in the Luo language, a language of the Luo community, from the Western part of Kenya. 

Jimmy: And now with Kamaru.

Music Interlude: SAFARI YA JAPAN PT 2

Nyokabi: He’s referring to Joseph Kamaru, who is from the Kikuyu community, which is also the community that Jimmy — and myself — are from. 

Jimmy: With Kamaru, Kamaru was a different artist. Kamaru’s music is not benga, it’s not jazz, it’s not — it’s – you can't generalize it. 

[Music continues]

Nyokabi: Kamaru was unafraid in writing songs with political themes, standing up to actions he felt were corrupt or unjust from the government at the time. 

[Music continues]

Jimmy: And eh, there’s this group, they were from Tanzania but all their musical life was here, in Nairobi — Les Wanyika. Their music is fantastic. 

Music Interlude: Orchestra Les Wanyika - Tamaa Mbaya

Nyokabi: Les Wanyika is actually also a personal favorite of mine, having members from both Kenya and neighboring country Tanzania. Nairobi was a hub for musicians from around Africa in the 70s and 80s. It was pretty much known as the “golden age” of Kenyan music. 

[Music continues]

Jimmy: And of course, Daniel Kamau, of Lulu’s Band. 

Music Interlude: Nana by The Lulus

Nyokabi: The now 73-year old Daniel Kamau of Lulu’s Band, wrote over 1000 songs during his musical career. This funky tune you’re hearing is the 1977 hit “Nana”, which was banned by the radio monopoly at the time, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation — for it had somewhat obscene lyrics.

[Music continues]

Nyokabi: I made a remark [to Jimmy] about how vinyl is going through this massive resurgence throughout the world — in fact, 2020 was the first year in more than a generation that vinyl sales surpassed that of CD sales (according to The Manual). I asked Jimmy whether the waves of this renaissance have been rippling into his shop as well.

Jimmy: There's a big renaissance. Since uh, like, from 1995, it's been rising. You just, uh, found some clients here, from Kansas City. 

Nyokabi: Are Kenyans also participating in this resurgence? 

Jimmy: They are. Most of my clients are East Africans. I could see, 60% are East Africans. 

Nyokabi: Amazingly, Jimmy’s shop is the only record shop of its size in the region,  in terms of the number of records they have. While there are some outfits here and there, Jimmy shares that his shop is the only one on the Eastern side of Africa, and the only ones north of Joburg and south of Cairo. I asked him what was special about vinyl. 

Jimmy: The output of a record player is much, much richer than any other format. Once the stylus hits the record, [audio: vinyl player static], it's a different story. Beyond that, you know very well that you're not playing pirated music. You're playing the real thing. It's not a fake CD. There's no bootleg in vinyl; you're paying for the original sound. 

Music Interlude: Nana by The Lulus

Nyokabi: Walking into Jimmy’s shop feels like walking into the past. Old, table-sized record players for sale sitting next to each other, and if I recall correctly, there’s even one of those early cameras on display. The store is just essentially a rich, tangible library of African music that has earned its respect from locals and international visitors alike. 

To close out the interview, I asked Jimmy what he felt most gratified by in running this store, as the store enters its 38th year.

Jimmy: There are people who are actually more older than you are, who have never touched one. They only see it in the movies. Once they come here and get so elated — some actually even cry [wow], seeing it happening [yes] — that's what gives me the best kick. At least somebody will learn something from whatever I'm doing. 

Music Interlude 

Nyokabi: Every time I visit Jimmy’s, I feel in awe, to be in a space that holds all this music. As Jimmy shares, vinyl is one of the best hard-copy ways to preserve music, and of course, we didn’t have digital back then, so much of the African music that was recorded at the time may have only had physical releases. 

Within the vinyl grooves of those 60,000 records are sounds of joy and pain, sounds of artists sharing their culture and their politics; sounds to mourn and sounds to celebrate. 

And what about sounds of everyday African life? Let’s go meet DJ Raph, who’s just as passionate about preserving our sounds — but just in a way that you can’t quite touch.

Music Interlude: Trio, by Citysynthesis (DJ Raph & Sophia Bauer)

DJ Raph: My name is Raphael, aka DJ Raph, from Nairobi, and uh, yeah I’m an electronic musician, an experimental musician, I’m a sound artist, and I chew a lot of jabba for those who know what that is.

Music Interlude: DJ Raph - Ikondera

Nyokabi: DJ Raph is one of the ‘OG’ electronic music artists in Nairobi; a figure who’s played a huge hand in the growth and development of the Kenyan underground electronic scene. He is co-founder of the Sound of Nairobi Archive, which is an open-source archive of field recordings taken around the city. 

The music you’re hearing is a track he and the other archive co-founder, Sophia Bauer, created, using field recordings from the archive. 

[Music continues]

Nyokabi: For this interview, Raph & I met up at Kuona Artists Collective, which provides work-stations for local visual artists. As a result, it has also become some kind of social hub for anyone who loves art, music, and the outdoors. Unfortunately for us, it started to rain, so we had to take the interview inside. 

[Audio: rain]

Nyokabi: I asked DJ Raph what inspired him to start the Sound of Nairobi archive, and he recalls a memory back to an artist residency he did at IwalewaHaus in Bayreuth, Germany, nearly 10 years ago. The museum invited him to work with audio recordings from their own archive of African art.

Music Interlude: Pulpit by Citysynthesis (DJ Raph and Sophia Bauer)

DJ Raph: My two week residency had me working with the audio section of the archive, and I was a drawn to a part that had recordings of people and places, mostly West Africa, Central Africa, um, in the sixties, and uh, I found it was really inspiring. Also made me think of — imagine a time, in a distant future, where people could hear what our time sounded like, preserving the sounds of our city, but also for use in creation, now. 

Nyokabi: Like a time capsule in a way?

DJ Raph: Something like that, but a time capsule, you lock it away somewhere [that’s true], but this is supposed to be a living, active archive. 

[sirens in the background]. 

DJ Raph: That's the sound of Nairobi in the background [laughs].

Music Interlude: Pulpit by Citysynthesis (DJ Raph and Sophia Bauer)

Nyokabi: According to IwalewaHaus’ website, that is, the place where Raph did the residency in Germany, around 10 years ago, the space was founded in 1981 to “research and document contemporary African culture”. However, Raph highlighted that the space was holding recordings of sounds and music taken in Africa in the early 1900s, meaning that they were probably not obtained ethically, or consensually. 

I asked Raph what the experience was like, emotionally, as an African reconciling with this in a foreign place. 

DJ Raph: I have a problem with this image of this European Explorer coming into the village to find out how these people live. I wanted to own that process for myself. I don’t want to be studied. And, I just want us to own our process. 

Music Interlude: Traffic Jazz by Citysynthesis (DJ Raph and Sophia Bauer)

Nyokabi: Here’s another track by DJ Raph and Sophia Bauer, using field recordings from the archive. They called it, “Traffic Jazz”. 

[Music fades out]

Nyokabi: While field recordings are rich with musicality to use in sound art and compositions, I was curious if there was a function of the archive outside of the music world. Is something like this important for other kinds of people?

DJ Raph spoke of sound as “research”; as a “source of knowledge”. He mentions that from collecting sounds through the years, we can get information on how the city has changed through time. 

DJ Raph: There used to be sounds that you would hear in Nairobi, like 10 years ago, 20 years ago, that don’t exist today. Uh, the sound of Kenya Bus, you remember Kenya Bus? The big, [blue] yeah big blue buses that have that big [mimics horn sound], big like, tractor kind of, like, sound. Those don't exist anymore, and now you hear like, motorbikes in almost any recording you do around Nairobi, no matter where you are, in the most quiet place, there’ll always be a [mimics sound of motorbike], bike in the background. Mobile phone ringtones [audio: ring tones], sounds of technology. What kind of sounds might there be in the future?  

Nyokabi: And it’s not only the urban sounds that are changing, but also the sounds of nature. Raph calls back to a panel that Sound of Nairobi hosted, where one of the panelists was Kenyan bio-acoustics researcher and naturalist, Professor Ciira wa Maina, who had been studying the birds in Mount Kenya.

DJ Raph: I remember this, um, the naturalist who told us about how he’s been studying like, wildlife around Mount Kenya, listening to what species are still around, which ones have come in, which ones have disappeared, and they've been doing that over time, and exploring sound as a source of information, and what can we learn? And that's something that we shall find out.

Music Interlude: Traffic Jazz by Citysynthesis (DJ Raph and Sophia Bauer)

Nyokabi: There are many roads to preservation: Jimmy filling up an old car with vinyl in rural Tanzania, DJ Raph scouring Nairobi to find the sounds of disappearing buses. But now, we meet another Kenyan, a OneBeat Fellow, who is preserving traditional music in a very hands-on way.

Music Interlude: Mabomba Dance ft. Kasiva

Nyokabi: Everyone in the Nairobi arts scene knows Kasiva, with her dynamic presence on stage & infectious smile. Her setup typically consists of a series of different drums — traditional ones from different communities in Kenya, and other percussion that she’s collected from all around the world. 

In a country and continent that is known for its percussion she has been very vocal about traditions that previously iced out women from participating as drummers.

Kasiva Mutua: We are all keepers of our culture; women can be cultural bearers and preservers of our musical traditions. You know, the reason why I say this is because for a very long time, I was the only professional, uh, female percussionist in the Kenyan music scene. And, you know, that came with it a lot of responsibility. And, a lot of curiosity as to why a woman would get herself in that kind of space. 

Kasiva: You know, once I was playing at a festival and an old man asked me how I thought I looked like holding a drum in between my legs, and I thought that was a very tough thing to say to a lady because there was no other way I could have held that drum, you know? 

We should be able to tell our stories and we should be able to exist in our cultures and traditions in the manner that we deem fit. Me choosing to play drums and, the drums choosing me, is something that I really take pride in, not only because it's something that I do love, but it's something that actually represents my background. It represents where I come from.

Music Interlude: Kasiva Mutua - Babu

Nyokabi: Kasiva is from the ethnic community of the Kamba, and she grew up in a rural village in Ukambani, in Central Kenya. 

Kasiva: So I grew up in a little village in Ukambani, and I started drumming because of, you know, stories that my grandmother used to tell me that made me develop a very, very keen ear in listening. The elements in the village versus the elements in the city are very different. In the village, there's more nature. The day is very different from the night. When you hear the sound of cowbell, it's either, you know, morning or evening, because it's either that the animals are going out into the fields or they're either coming back, after a day of grazing. 

There's so many sounds in the village that, that are so beautiful and just crisscross in the air and they're just everywhere and they just make the — they, they define what a village is, they make it so beautiful.

Nyokabi: I asked her how Nairobi has influenced or affected her music-making. 

Kasiva: Living in Nairobi has sort of, modeled my sound into a sound that has a little bit of tradition and a little bit of uh, modern influences, which is quite a really, really interesting mix. 

Nyokabi: This confluence that Kasiva has met throughout her life, of bridging the traditional with the modern, is present in her debut EP, “Ngewa” released in March earlier this year. I was curious what inspired the EP.

Kasiva: So, ‘Ngewa’ is a Kamba name that means ‘stories’. And in this EP, I take you through the stories of my life as a percussionist, as a way, and as a channel of preserving some of the sounds that are here now with me and sounds that I have encountered, but just the sounds of a woman living in this era and a woman who loves percussion so much.

Nyokabi: Here’s a single from the EP, ‘Hakukole’. 

Music Interlude: Kasiva Mutua - Hakukole

Kasiva: I have used a lot of percussive instruments, some local, some that I have collected in some of the places that I have been to. 

I've always been shying away from singing, but um, I finally did it. Yay!

[Music continues]

Nyokabi: Kasiva explained to me that this was actually inspired by finding out about a Hawaiian art form called “Hakukole” where poetry or songs are created using witty jokes and sarcasm to sort of ‘ridicule’ someone. She saw a link between this ‘mchongwano’, our version of this ‘battle of wits’ in Kenya.

[Music fades out]

Nyokabi: This idea of energy and fun, is not just part of the listener’s experience. Kasiva explains it was part of the process too, particularly when she decided to use found sounds and field recordings to tell the stories.

Kasiva: It was more fun and play than work [laughs] coming up with all these tracks. I revisited my childhood, when I would listen to different sounds that inspired me, I literally went into forests; lit fires and collected the sounds of sparks, you know, and firewood burning. I collected sounds of children playing.

Nyokabi: I asked Kasiva what she wanted people to take away from listening to the EP. 

Kasiva: [Exhales]. I would like people to feel the joy that I felt while I came up with this project. I'd like people to have the ability to free themselves and explore how the music moves, you know, how free the music feels. The idea of freedom is really, really important in, in life — the freedom to be is quite something.

Music Interlude: Mabomba Dance ft. Kasiva

Nyokabi: In February, I went to an event in Nairobi organized by Gig Dynamics, a company that provides tech support for live events and performances. They called it a “3 day edutainment experience” — where during the day, they gave workshops on how to do lights, sound and other tech — and in the evenings, they hosted performers from newcomers onto the music scene to some headline acts, including Blinky Bill, who happens to be a 2013 OneBeat alumnus. 

This was my first time watching Kasiva perform, and I was full of anticipation as she walked onto the stage with a group of six other female percussionists, each with a set of their own traditional drums.

Field Recording from Kasiva’s show (January 2022): “Rhythm and percussion is the love of my life, and…I started playing a long, long time ago, and in my journey I have been quite lonely in the sense of being the only lady in the industry who has actively been playing percussion for quite a long time. So I looked for other girls and ladies, and their name is MOTRA Music, and I am sort of like their mother, and I mentor them, helped by the very able drummer Matthewmatics Rabala [cheering], and the very able percussionist, Mobutu Sese, who’s not here today…”

Nyokabi: Kasiva founded MOTRA Music to unite other women who are interested in drumming, and she guides them through a year-long program that includes lessons in traditional drumming, career mentorship, and gig opportunities. I asked Kasiva what it was like, to create and realize a vision that ushers in other women into the world of drumming. 

Kasiva: MOTRA, which means “modern and traditional rhythms”, is an all female percussion collective that I co-founded in 2015 with Matthewmatics and Mobutu, who are friends in the Kenyan music scene. It's really a dream come true. I always felt kind of lonely in the music industry because I didn't know who I could talk to. In the manner I was using drums to tell my story, I thought, ‘there must be other women who would want to use this same tool to express themselves?’ 

In the music festivals we used to have in school, I used to see all these girls' schools, would come and present their pieces of music, and there was always a girl drummer accompanying those pieces, and I thought, ‘where are all these girls, where did they go to after school?’ 

And now, you know, having a whole community of women on the drums —ugh, I feel so much support, now I can talk about blisters [laughs], freely and for forever, you know? It's just really nice to have a community that understands you from, from a feminine perspective. 

Audio from Kasiva’s show: “And the next piece is called Mekatilili…” 

Nyokabi: Mekatilili was a woman from the Giriama ethnic group in Kenya who, between 1912 and 1915, led her people to fight against the violent colonial government. 

Audio from Kasiva’s show: “...which is paying homage to very strong women leaders amongst us, and everyone who identifies as a woman – hoye!” [drumming begins]

Kasiva mentions that MOTRA started with 3 girls when it started in 2015, and now, 40 women have gone through the program. She shares a bit more about what the program has looked like.

Kasiva: The girls come in for a one year mentorship program, where we teach them rhythm, we teach them the history of different drums from different communities in Kenya and beyond. We also give them opportunity to play actual gigs. 

Audio from Kasiva’s show: [performance of ‘Mekatilili’]

Nyokabi: Watching MOTRA music play on the stage with Kasiva, you can’t help but join in their joy and energy — it was infectious. They raise their arms to beat the drums in sync, enjoying the full physicality and release of that contact. 

Kasiva reflects on MOTRA’s journey with pride, and gratefulness.

Kasiva: It's almost as if you get a little, you know, “Mom” moment [laughs], when you see your little babies, you know, on stage just working them drums and, and the audience just responding with big smiles and beautiful comments about the energy and what they're feeling and what they're seeing. 

I'm really, really proud of these girls. I'm proud of their journeys and, um, I hope women can be encouraged to continue picking their instruments of choice and telling their stories ever so boldly. 

Music Interlude: Kasiva Mutua "Uhai" - GEF Music Collective

Nyokabi: Something Kasiva mentioned during a previous conversation has stuck with me all this time, and I’d like to close out with it: “If it takes [any] of us to preserve our culture, then let us do it.” 

In all of the people that were featured in this episode, going from Jimmy Rugami, to DJ Raph, and then Kasiva Mutua — we see how sound finds itself a vibrant medium to piece back the truth of our history; to inform ourselves today and in the future. 

In the second part of this investigation, I interviewed one of the most exciting voices in ambient music today: the Kenyan sound artist, Kamaru (spelled K-M-R-U). Yes, we did hear this name before in this episode; but it’s his grandson that I’m now referring to! We have a conversation about his recent project, “Temporary Stored”, where he brings to attention that sound is a necessary part of the conversation when it comes to the repatriation of art from European institutions back to Africa. Through this project, he seeks to liberate these “looted sounds” in a powerful and confrontational way.

Nyokabi: And before I go, this part from my interview with Jimmy was way too cool to leave out. Enjoy!

Nyokabi: Uh – what's your record? Best record of all time. Any artist, any genre, any…

Jimmy Rugami: [laughs]. I listen to Manu Dibango a lot – call my number.

Nyokabi: [laughs] I thought you were going to play a vinyl. 

Jimmy Rugami: No.

Music from cell phone: Soul Makossa by Manu Dibango

Nyokabi: Soul Makossa?

Jimmy Rugami: Soul Makossa.

Music Interlude: Soul Makossa by Manu Dibangu


Music Interlude: Kasiva Mutua - Bam Chikicha and Citysynthesis - Pulpit 

Kyla-Rose Smith: Thank you for tuning in to The OneBeat Podcast. This episode was produced and edited by Nyokabi Kariuki with help from Jeremy Thal, Elena Moon Park and me, Kyla-Rose Smith. 

You can find all of the music you heard in this episode, and more, on a playlist linked in the episode description and on our Youtube page. 

Tune in next month for the second part of this episode, where Nyokabi continues to explore how sound plays a crucial role in archiving Kenyan history and culture. She’ll be talking to Berlin-based, Nairobi-born Joseph Kamaru, one of the leading ambient sound artists in the world today.

Please follow our work, and the work of this incredible community of OneBeat artists - visit for more information (that’s the number 1… And if you are enjoying what you hear, please subscribe to this podcast, leave us comments and share with your friends. 

OneBeat is an initiative of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (also known as the ECA) in collaboration with Bang On A Can’s Found Sound Nation

The views and opinions expressed by our guests on this podcast are their own and not those of the ECA, Bang On A Can, Found Sound Nation, or any of its employees.