Haunted memories of Kenya.
Nyokabi Kariũki’s music is very difficult to place into a specific box. Yes, it is full of Kenyan instruments, sounds and ideas – but it doesn’t sound like World music. Instead, Nyokabi is a sound sculptress. She takes field recordings, this time from Kenya, and places them alongside abstract melodies, vocal arrangements, spoken word movements and kalimba. The album began during the pandemic when she was unable to travel home to Kenya and so the music created was inspired by memories of home. The result is something that feels like a dream sequence in audio form.
Each track is wildly different. “Equator Song” is a lush evocative motherly vocal led piece. Different “oohs” fan out up and down notes over brash bird song and wind. “A Walk Through My Cũcũ’s Farm” is a somewhat haunted mix of shovelling, walking, spiritual murmurings and cries over clinking kalimba. A spoken word passage holds central space as the tension seems to grow like an eerie ghost story. “Galu” is full of water splashes, cymbal runs and the urge to swim into the water. Everything feels like it was recorded in the mouth of a cave and the field recordings evoke a 360 audio feel. “Home Piano” brings kalimba, metallic bending and endless rain. It’s an experimental jazz piece in some ways.
These songs don’t contain immediate melodies at all – they are mood pieces. “Ngurumo, or Feeding Goats Mangoes” is the best example of this. Mbira runs riot but it isn’t tuneful, it’s a cascade rumble of emotion that breaks into electric glistens and goat noises. Throughout, Nyokabi is singing like a distant siren and you can’t tell if it’s warm or creepy. I sided with the latter judging by the overall mood but this album lives in that grey area. Half the album is creepy, the other half bountiful. Outro piece “Naila’s Peace Place” personifies this with lush vibraphone and glassy hues on one hand. On the other, a slow dragged out moan. It spirals from ear to ear as if a distant cry of pain is enveloping you. I get the impression that once beautiful memories of home have pain to them when you are kept away from returning. That’s how the music made me feel anyway.
This album is not for everyone. It is highly experimental and if you don’t enjoy field recordings being used as the base for all sound, you may struggle. There is something about it though. The way Nyokabi Kariũki can take something natural or peaceful and give it an eerie quality is uncanny. Just know going in that “Peace Places: Kenyan Memories” a mood first, melody second deal. This is a challenging but rewarding listen.
Recommended track: Equator Song
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