Rapasa Nyatrapasa Otieno is a Kenyan singer-songwriter and a virtuoso of the Nyatiti, an eight-stringed lyre, that originates from the Lüo community who are settled around the shores of Lake Victoria, Kenya.
His in-depth studies with Lüo masters has earnt him an extensive playing knowledge and a panoramic view of the Nyatiti’s roots.
Rapasa has further explored the Nyatiti and other indigenous Kenyan instruments with numerous collaborations in the USA and Europe and recently with the University of York project, Human Rights Defenders at Risk, releasing “Songs of Equality” single in December 2019.
Tipona is his debut album, meaning ‘my shadow’, a reference to his family where he feels protected and safe.
A narrative of a young Rapasa – and like many other young African boys, faces the anxieties of transition into manhood. Leaving the comfort of village life for the city to seek work, the expectancy of providing money and the pressure from finding a bride – stepping away from their Tapona.
The songs are arranged around the Nyatiti – hypnotic and lyrical, there is a gentle ebb and flow to its rhythm.
Layers of sound are introduced – the traditional ankle bells that often accompany Lüo artists jangle a beat, a busy tabla drum patters with a graceful bansuri flute, drawing from the local Indian community in Kenya.
There’s also a bluesy fingerpicking guitar, and a lively double bass adding depth. The Orutu, a Lüo one-stringed fiddle and a Tung, a curved horn, are used sparingly, but none the less, further enhance this fascinating album.
Overall the compositions are well balanced and not complex, the songs never reach a crescendo, but plateau for Rapasa’s mostly mellow and melodic voice to be comfortable with.
There is much in this unique album to admire, but paramount to Rapasa is the preserving of traditional Lüo sounds whilst interpreting them for the modern world and he has certainly accomplished this with Tapona.