En Mana Kuoyo

Ayub Ogada, 2012

Kenyan singer-songwriter Ayub Ogada was a busker on the Northern Line when he came to Real World's attention in the late 80s. And this 1993 set - his only record for the label - proved that it was a meeting of minds, with his disarmingly simple arrangements, allowed to hang there unadorned, making a lasting impression. Simply backing himself (albeit with virtuosic ease) on an East African lyre called a nyatiti, this record introduced Ayub as a performer of great charm, his warm vocals never leaving centre stage.

Since its initial release in 1993, En Mana Kuoyo has become the stuff of world music legend. The album’s ten songs present a spacious, acoustic side of African music, one subtly imbued with modern sensibility. The production was ahead of its time in its simplicity, and it made a sharp contrast with the ever-more elaborate, technically complex African music productions of its era. The album’s inclusion of collaborating artists from various countries qualified it as part of a growing movement of hybrid world music. But for the maestro himself, Ayub Ogada - who had already produced two “crossover” albums in his native Kenya - the session was more about shedding foreign affectations. It was an embrace of tradition that took him more profoundly into his African past than anything he had done before.

“I sat outside,” recalls Ayub. “I refused to record inside the studio. I played a concert outside. It took three hours. Then, the next day, we called the percussionist. The next day we called the guitarist. It took three days to record that album.” Though created quickly, En Mana Kuoyo had been years in gestation. “It was my life encapsulated,” recalls Ayub. “A musician has to experience life; that is when you write new music. I'm interested in making history. If I do an album, it has to last.” En Mana Kuoyo has passed that test. Its music has been used in numerous film soundtracks and included on many music compilations.

Ayub’s principle instrument, the nyatiti lyre, is considered to be a woman. “When you start to play this instrument, you practically get married,” he once said. “She won’t like you to play another instrument. Suits me fine; I’m happily married.” The nyatiti is used in spiritual practice and to sing historical praise songs. But it can also accompany humorous Luo songs, peppered with puns and proverbs, as well as songs delving into social realities. In short, it is a complete package, so it is no surprise that Ayub remains faithful to it to this day.

'A haunting, spiritual quality that is reflective, intimate, introspective and demonstrates an extraordinary sensitivity to dynamics' - Folk Roots


  • One of the finest albums in the entire Real World label's back catalogue... Ayub Ogada's "En Mana Kuoyo" is a deceptively simple set of tracks that somehow linger in the memory long after the last note has faded. He's got a fine voice and the sparse instrumentation provides a perfect backdrop allowing the melodies and invention to shine through. Highly recommended. Piccadilly Records (UK)
  • ...the finest songs are slow melodic ballads... ..the finest songs are slow melodic ballads...or relaxed lilting pieces...that show off both the instrument’s delicacy and Ogada’s thoughtful, intimate and soulful vocals. The Guardian (1993) (UK)
  • ..a fine debut. Q Magazine (1993) (UK)
  • En Mana Kuoyo has a haunting, spiritual quality that is reflective, intimate, introspective and demonstrates an extraordinary sensitivity to dynamics. Folk Roots (1993) (UK)