Rapasa Nyatrapasa Otieno
Rapasa is a singer, songwriter, multi instrumentalist, music educator and contemporary dancer. He is an advocate of traditional music. He plays several indigenous instruments to East Africa. His principal instrument is nyatiti, an eight-string lyre which has travelled along the Nile with the Lüo community who plays this instrument and whose people have now settled along the shores of Nam Lolwe (known as Lake Victoria) where Rapasa is from. Through its storytelling, his music gives an insight into our ancestor’s wisdom and is very focused on this heritage. He has in depth knowledge and understanding of traditional music particularly from the Lüo customs. Yet he has researched nyatiti music in such a way that he is able to place it in the context of today’s music worldwide landscape. Rapasa experiments with the use of different scales ranging from the traditional minor pentatonic to the major diatonic scale which changes the approach to chords usage on nyatiti. He discovered that such use of the instrument broadens its musical spectrum. During his travels and at home in Kenya, the conversations that he has with the members of different communities, strengthens his own conversation with his nyatiti. For instance together they are crossing the boundaries to better understand the echo from his ancestors.
His love and interest in music manifested at a tender age in the village back in Ugenya (Western Kenya). Through enquiry he discovered of his family’s traditional music roots from both his grandparents. One was a singer and another was a traditional dancer. He can also trace back a lineage of nyatiti players from Alego Usonga. Amongst other instruments Rapasa plays nyatiti, adungu, nyangile, poko/peke, obokano, oporo and ongeng’o.
Rapasa’s big dream of what Nyatiti would become in the future, has led him to various collaborations locally in East Africa, in the United States and in Europe. In order to achieve this dream Rapasa has researched its traditional use. He developed his nyatiti playing skills at Owiny Sigoma. He spent time with masters of nyatiti in the villages (Alego Kobare, Unyulo, Alego Sigoma, Ugenya Sega, Rang'ala and Kisumu Nyahera). He also checked on other Lüo genres in relation with this instrument for example Dodo music which used to be practiced by men before women took it on. His music journey has led him to discover the integrity of nyatiti music. He further delved back into the technicalities of the instrument, historical records, process of fabrication and different tuning from individual Gurus during the making of the documentary Master’s of Nyatiti by Singingwells and Ketebul Music in 2017.
His work encompasses writing scores for films (Common Destiny, Filmaid Kenya), documentaries (BBC Earth Serengeti episode 6 of the first season), commercial adverts such as Yu-Econnect and Dola, audio recordings, live music performances and live music for contemporary dancers.
His debut album, released on March 2020, “Tipona” (my shadow), recorded and pre-mixed by Nathan Okite, mixed and mastered by Jeff Chitouras (available to listen to on Under the Radar, and to buy or stream on all major digital platforms), is a spiritual journey through the eyes of a young village boy stepping into manhood. Rapasa also created an album in collaboration with the University of York on the project Human Rights Defenders at Risk “Songs of Equality” released on 28 December 2019 on most digital platforms Songs of equality album. For more information about the project click on the link: The Security of Defenders Project. He has done various collaborations including those created during his tour with Making Tracks and OneBeat as a fellow in 2019 and 2017 respectively, music on Soundcloud Found Sound Nation. Back in 2016 he participated in the Nile Project musician gathering.
Rapasa has spent several years exploring movement and nyatiti. In 2011-2017 Rapasa was part of the Performance Lab Nairobi, an artist and audience development platform designed to bridge the gap between training, creative process and audience engagement, headed by Opiyo Okach. This platform offers an innovative environment in which experienced and emerging artists can exchange, collaborate, challenge each other, create and engage audiences in the creative process thus contributing to a new body of innovative work to the general public. For more information click the following links: Gara Project.
As part of his ongoing research he participates in the teaching of the future generation at home (Kenya) and abroad. For him teaching equals sharing. It is a two way interactive process between the teacher and the student. It enables his continued quest on researching the instrument all the while giving his current knowledge to the student. This is achieved with inquiries and discussions which broadens his ongoing exploration of the nyatiti especially with what it can bring to people. 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. In this environment 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. He also tutors individuals.