Interview: Owiny Sigoma Band (November 2015)

Now on their third Brownswood LP, Nyanza, Owiny Sigoma Band are rightfully garnering critical acclaim. This super-group’s insistence on pushing the envelope is infectious. They’re part of a wider scene of DJs and bands who fuse tropical, electronic flavours with, dubby-techno and cerebral pop.

The project began in earnest when Jesse Hackett, former keyboard player for Gorillaz and Africa Express played Giles Peterson a bunch of tunes he was working on with different collaborators. Ironically, the recordings that stood out were probably the worst in terms of sound quality. They were field recordings Hackett made on a trip to Kenya with master Nyatiti player, Joseph Nyamungu. Thus, with Peterson’s gentle persuasion, Owiny Sigoma Band was born.

Their contagious energy comes to light when you watch their intimate ‘making of’ documentary, Owiny Sigoma Band Presents: Nyanza. In it you see how three London lads essentially make music on the spot with their Kenyan friends. There’s an immediacy in the writing that shines through on the record.

We caught up with Owiny’s drummer and producer Tom Skinner to talk about making the record.


Hi Tom, where are you speaking from today?

Hi Byron! I am speaking to you live and direct from a hotel room in Istanbul! Probably one of my favourite cities in the world! I’m very happy to be playing here tonight with Sons Of Kemet at a great venue called Salon IKSV.

Your new LP Nyanza is getting a fair amount of hype…how are the general public receiving your global rhythms?

Yes! ‘Nyanza’ is the 3rd album from Owiny Sigoma Band which is a collaborative project between me and some of my close friends from London – brothers Jesse and Louis Hackett – and 2 traditional Luo musicians from western Kenya – Nyatiti master Joseph Nyamungu and master Nyiduonge drummer Charles Owoko. We are really proud of this record which is the culmination of some six years of hard work, blood, sweat and tears (no joke!). It’s been a labour of love from day one so it’s nice that the album has been really well received and we have had some great reviews across the board. Nyanza is the name of the province of western Kenya that Joseph and Charles are from – Luo Land! 

For those that haven’t watched your documentary how do you make music when you’ve got band members on the other side of the globe?

As you can probably imagine logistically it is quite difficult to be able to all be together in the same place at one time. Because of this we usually have to work in blocks of time. The first album was recorded mainly in Kenya, the second album ‘Power Punch’ was recorded in London and ‘Nyanza’ was recorded last December back in Kenya again. We travelled up country from Nairobi to western Kenya and were based in Kisumu on Lake Victoria. So beautiful there! It was such a great trip and this time we took all our recording equipment with us which enabled us to set up and record in different spaces. As a result I think you really get a feel for the environment we were in when you listen to the record. You can even hear chickens and frogs in the background on some tracks if you listen closely! 

Your sound is eclectic. Is there a particular way you personally describe the Owiny Sound?

We’ve called it a ‘London/Luo Sound Clash’ in the past which is a fairly apt description I’d say. I dunno, this new album feels a lot more complete in terms of a sound y’know? Maybe not complete but more fully formed – in a natural way. After 6 years working together we’ve built up a lot of trust between us in terms of communicating ideas to each other. Now it feels less like a meeting of different styles and cultures and more like its own entity. Our own sound. This I am really proud of. It’s a very honest and not a self-conscious sound… 

On this album, you produced some tunes. Can you tell us about them?

To be honest all of our records have been jointly produced by the band. It really is a collaborative effort when it comes to the production. Having said that we do sometimes break off and do bits individually. The song ‘Tech9’ I guess I kind of produced but it’s actually all taken from a live jam with me on the drum machines and drum pads and Charles on the vocals. I edited it and mixed it and added a few extra things but essentially it’s a live performance. 

Have you got any advice for young drummers with big dreams coming into the industry?

Don’t be afraid to be yourself and find your own voice. It’s all about individual people and personalities as far as I’m concerned. That’s what makes for interesting music and art. Oh yeah, and practice your rudiments…Really slowly! 

For those that don’t know, can you tell us about other bands you’re in?

The aforementioned Sons of Kemet led by the great Shabaka Hutchings. We also have a new album out and are touring a lot through to the end of the year and beyond. I have my own project called Hello Skinny which kind of moves at its own (fairly slow!) pace – I have just recorded some new music for that which will hopefully see the light of day sometime next year. I do quite a few remixes under this moniker and quite enjoy the process of deconstructing other people’s music in this way. I also work with Melt Yourself Down who have a new record coming next spring. There’s a couple of other interesting things stewing in the pot as well but I can’t really divulge too much info about that just yet…keep your ear to the ground! 

Finally, we heard about the death of your Kenyan collaborator Charles Owoko. What does this mean for your project?

We are all absolutely devastated by Charles’ death. He had been quite ill for some time but nothing can really prepare you for a loss like that. He was such a beautiful man and an integral part of the band. I don’t really know what to say. We are still grieving and processing what has happened. He was our dear friend and brother and we will miss him forever. I’m just glad that we got to spend the time that we had together, travel the world and make music together. Rest in peace brother Charles! We miss you. Owiny never fail! 

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *