452

Extra Golden: Ok-Oyot System

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

Sign in to view read count
Extra Golden: Ok-Oyot System Otieno Jagwasi is the quintessential benga musician. Born in Kenya's western Luo-speaking Nyanza Province, the cradle of the local style, he was a child prodigy on the fiddle-like orutu, which, when transposed to electric guitar, became the substrate of benga. He played with Circle K, a band that split off from benga godfather D.O. Misiani's Shirati Jazz. He gigged intensively, raised chickens and led two popular Nairobi bands—Extra Solar Africa and Orchestra Hits International—scoring some local successes. And then, shortly after recording Ok-Oyot System, he died, ravaged by disease, in May 2005 at the age of 34.

Among his other accomplishments, Otieno worked with Ian Eagleson, a guitarist with the Washington DC-based rock 'n' roll band Golden, to help him research his ethnomusicology PhD on benga. That academic partnership led to Extra Golden, a band uniting members of Extra Solar Africa and Golden, and this record, recorded on Eagleson's laptop in a couple of Nairobi nightclubs during the day. As such, the record has the intimate ambiance of a jam session among an empathetic set of players, rather than a full-fledged dancehall performance. The setting makes it easy to hear all the parts, notably the deliciously economical funk of Extra Solar drummer Onyango Wuod Omari.

Simply put, the record is pure guitar pleasure. It's hard to say who is playing what amidst the overdubbed guitars, but there is one voice that is swirling, with ample use of the pedals and a crisp Latin influence (inherited from Congolese rumba), and another more likely to use a rock 'n' roll-style fuzz tone. The record is a genuine fusion, although clearly dominated by benga. When the music is at its best, as on the title track, English-language harmonies from Golden's Alex Minoff and Eagleson trade off with Otieno's sober, slightly melancholy baritone with the same groovy empathy that marks their guitar interplay.

The boys from Golden provide two rock 'n' roll numbers. "Tussin' and Fightin' is less successful in this context, but "It's Not Easy, buoyed by a fragile falsetto and country-soul beat, manages to evoke Curtis Mayfield.

"Ok-oyot" apparently translates as "it's not easy, a catchphrase employed by benga musicians to refer to the burdens of everyday life—but it could equally apply to the deceptive ease of the complex music they produce. Otieno's guitar and voice allow both interpretations. Though benga, and East African guitar music more generally, have been amply anthologized in the world music domain, Ok-Oyot System will probably provide most listeners outside Kenya with their first introduction to Otieno. His death casts a shadow over this record because it is an introduction that most listeners will want to renew.

Ok-Oyot System, situated at the marginalized intersection of two genres (world music and indie rock) themselves marginalized by the global hit-making machinery, runs a very real risk of slipping through the cracks. And that would be a great shame.


Track Listing: Ilando Gima Onge; It's Not Easy; Ok-Oyot System; Osama Rach; Tussin and Fightin'; Nyajondere.

Personnel: Alex Minoff: guitar, bass, drums, vocal; Ian Eagleson: guitar, bass, vocal; Otieno Jagwasi: guitar, vocal, bass; Onyango Wuod Omari: drums; Junior: backing vocal, animation.

Title: Ok-Oyot System | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Thrill Jockey


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Honey And Salt CD/LP/Track Review Honey And Salt
by Mark Corroto
Published: August 22, 2017
Read To the Bone CD/LP/Track Review To the Bone
by Geno Thackara
Published: August 22, 2017
Read Flesh & Bone CD/LP/Track Review Flesh & Bone
by Troy Collins
Published: August 22, 2017
Read Generations CD/LP/Track Review Generations
by Jerome Wilson
Published: August 22, 2017
Read 90 Going On Amazing CD/LP/Track Review 90 Going On Amazing
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: August 21, 2017
Read Let There Be Life, Love and Laughter CD/LP/Track Review Let There Be Life, Love and Laughter
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: August 21, 2017
Read "Cross-Platform Interchange" CD/LP/Track Review Cross-Platform Interchange
by Roger Farbey
Published: May 4, 2017
Read "The Seasons" CD/LP/Track Review The Seasons
by Troy Dostert
Published: April 11, 2017
Read "The Behemoth" CD/LP/Track Review The Behemoth
by Karl Ackermann
Published: April 9, 2017
Read "Mind Behind Closed Eyes" CD/LP/Track Review Mind Behind Closed Eyes
by Chris M. Slawecki
Published: November 22, 2016
Read "Flux" CD/LP/Track Review Flux
by Glenn Astarita
Published: October 26, 2016
Read "Planet" CD/LP/Track Review Planet
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: September 28, 2016

Sponsor: JANA PROJECT | LEARN MORE  

Support our sponsor

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.