En Mana Kuoyo

Ayub Ogada

Released 17 May 1993

  1. Obiero
  2. Dala
  3. Wa Winjigo Ero
  4. Thum Nyatiti
  5. Kronkronhinko
  6. Chiro
  7. 10%
  8. Ondiek
  9. Kothbiro
  10. En Mana Kuoyo

Liner notes

Kenyan singer-songwriter Ayub Ogada was a busker on London’s 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.

Photo credit: Stephen Lovell-Davis

About the Songs

1. Obiero

For my brother Eric. Your spirit inspires me to dare.

 

2. Dala

Home, not as in your house, but as in spiritual home. One person is alone, two people may dance, three people they open the door, four people begin to walk all the way home. Let’s get together and make it like home. Togetherness is strength and direction.

 

3. Wa Winjigo Ero

A young man doesn’t look after the cattle, he walks home before them, so he doesn’t even know if all the cattle are behind him. Luckily for him the cattle have all got bells. People say to him, it’s okay, we hear then now.

 

4. Them Nyatiti

The music of the lyre is the voice of the Luo.

 

5. Kronkronhinko

A praise song to the great Ghanaian queen Yaa Asaantewa, with many thanks to my friends from Ghana.

Ayub performs Obiero live in The Wood Room at Real World Studios

6. Chiro

An old man’s advice: “Go far, see the world, but don’t forget where you come from. I went to a place. I was very happy there, met the love of my life, but I’m back home now.”

 

7. 10%

10% expendable! I’ve been living on our planet and have seen, like many others, how politicians have been manipulating the people. As if only 10% of the people are suffering then it’s okay. For an individual, suffering is 150%. We’ve got to preserve the social fabric.

 

8. Ondiek

Beware the hand that seems to feed you! A hyena in human form – watch out, where he walks the earth burns. Watch out for those among us, and that within us, which is destructive.

 

9. Kothbiro

Another song concerning cattle-herding: “Dear children, the rain is coming, bring in the cattle, bring in our wealth.”

 

10. En Mana Kuoyo

A parable suggesting that the person who hurries eats his sesame seeds with sand.

'Wa Winjigo Ero', performed live in The Wood Room at Real World Studios in 1995

Listen

Reviews

  • En Mana Kuoyo has a haunting, spiritual quality that is reflective, intimate, introspective and demonstrates an extraordinary sensitivity to dynamics. Folk Roots (UK)
  • 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 (UK)
  • One of the finest albums in the entire Real World label's back catalogue Picadilly Records (UK)

Further Listening

  • Exile

    Geoffrey Oryema

    Released 10 September 1990

    Produced by Brian Eno, this album introduced the world to the struggles of singer-songwriter Geoffrey Oryema, who fled Uganda at a young age following the secret assassination of his father, a government minister. A wistful reflection on the Uganda of Oryema’s youth and the sadness of his exile.
  • Songs For The Poor Man

    Remmy Ongala & Orchestre Super Matimila

    Released 30 October 1989

    Recorded at Real World Studios over three days during May 1989, this album is the first Remmy Ongala & Orchestre Super Matimila produced in a Western environment. The tracks feature Matimila’s touring nucleus of eight musicians, and provide a great introduction to this unique and compelling band.

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