Rapasa Nyatrapasa Otieno
The drive behind Nyatiti NyaDala
Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and contemporary dancer from Kenya, Rapasa Nyatrapasa Otieno is the founder of Nyatiti NyaDala and virtuoso of the nyatiti, a traditional eight-string lyre from the shores of Nam Lolwe (Kenya’s Lake Victoria). The music he creates is deeply rooted in traditional storytelling from the Lüo community, nilotes who also settled in Western Kenya and who are known to play the nyatiti.
He has been selected to take part in several prestigious projects where his work was showcased. In Snape Malting in February 2022 he spent one week preparing his spectacular performance of nyatiti and projected live media interaction which he had first investigated as Sage Gateshead Artist in Residence (AiR) 2020/21. During AiR 2020/21, he also delved for the first time into music production to release his work KWEChE on 4 Aug 2021. KWEChE is an album he composed in England while he reflected on a change of environment and audience. He presented this work in Hall One of Sage Gateshead in June 2020. In 2019 he toured in the UK as a Making Tracks fellow in ten venues including King’s Place in London. He also toured in the US with the OneBeat programme in 2017 and in 2016 while participating in the Nile Project.
KWEChE follows the release of his debut album Tipona recorded and pre-mixed by Nathan Okite, mixed and mastered by Jeff Chitoura, which is available on all major digital platforms and available to purchase from Bandcamp.com.
The EP Songs of Equality, released in December 2019, was commissioned by the University of York in 2017. Other notable work include composing and recording for BBC Earth Serengeti in 2018 and 2022, for the Chineke! Orchestra’s Song of the Prophets performed at St Paul’s Cathedral which premiered via live stream on 9 June 2021 and in late 2022 for Nomad film.
In 2021 he was awarded funding by the Arts Council of England to develop his skills in filmmaking and digital media live projection to explore how he can further express storytelling tradition through other media. Thanks to his body movement training and projects participation, including Dance Laboratory of Gaara Projects and to his participation in more of Opiyo Okach’s recent projects, Rapasa Nyatrapasa Otieno came to realise the potential media interactive manipulation technologies could have on his art.
It is especially relevant as his audience is becoming broader. How could his art resonate with people who do not speak the language of the tales which are told? His filmmaking skills he acquired during this process are also going to be used for creating content for Nyatiti NyaDala in line with content such as “My Nyatiti Stories’ produced with Loi Awat. Other notable awards includes the MOBO fund from Help Musicians to continue developing his work JOPANGO “on the Benga road” which he started in 2018 while on the road between three continents.
His participation in the making of Masters of Nyatiti produced and curated by Singingwells and Ketebul music, in 2017 has been a great opportunity to develop his already well established research in nyatiti music and instrument making.
As part of this ongoing research, he participates in teaching the future generation at home (Kenya) and abroad. For him teaching equals sharing. He does not see himself as a teacher more a conversation facilitator. It enables his continued quest on researching the instrument all the while giving his current knowledge to students. At Kitovu learning space http://kitovu.org/ Rapasa is involved in an educational project for home-schooled children. The association focuses on giving children the tools to open their creative thinking and confidence. Within this framework, he engages students in the process of creating music with nyatiti, nyangile and kayamba among other instruments. He takes them through instrument making in order to develop their self-determination and to connect with the instrument. He worked as a music tutor in children homes for instance at Zaidi Ya Dreams Children’s (orphanage) Ruiru, at Oshwal Academy with children with special needs and at Jirani Children’s Choir which is a Korean organization in Nairobi. In the United Kingdom he gave workshops to schools during the Making Tracks tour 2019 and was worksop facilitator during the Making Tracks tour 2022. He led independent workshops in local primary schools of the North East of England and one in London.