Kasiva Mutua’s new EP Ngewa is a tonic for the soul

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The creative and cultural activist is an unapologetic champion for the African girl child and knows the role the arts can play in opening up opportunities for women in a male-dominated sector. As such, the Kenyan artist has set out to nurture a new generation of female professional percussionists and drummers in Africa.

And with the release of her new EP Ngewa(link is external), she continues in the same vein, serving up a sonic experience unlike any other as she plays the role of a visionary, mentor and experimenter.

On Ngewa, meaning ‘story’ in her native Kamba language, Kasiva immerses us in the richness of African sounds, paying homage to her ancestors and the environment that she grew up in.

In this tour-de-force release, the artist’s passion shines brightly. The EP is the work of a musician fully in control of her craft; someone fully aware of both her social and natural surroundings. “The environment really inspires a lot of the creations that I make,” Kasiva told The Standard newspaper recently. “From textures, sounds and melodies, I tend to be a very observant person.”

The six-track EP melds seven months of hard work into a melodic journey that will no doubt become every world music fan’s fantasy. This percussive offering transports the listener through different soundscapes – some haunting, others enchanting and even experimental. The artist says she always looks for ways of pairing her music with her different passions.

With little vocal accompaniment, most of the interpretation is left to you; you have to listen to the stories the drums narrate, or at the very least let the sleeve notes do this for you.

One of the most evocative tracks on the EP is ‘Babu’, which is played to the whistling tune of a bamboo flute locally known as chivoti. The song pays homage to a late Mijikenda musician by the name of Mzee Mwawira who enchanted his village with songs resulting from visions and dreams.

‘Hakukole’, the artist writes, borrows from both Ethiopian and Hawaiian musical traditions. Hakukole are Hawaiian chants, songs and sayings calling out bad behaviour. “The composers of hakukole are similar to the Azmari of Ethiopia whom I encountered while touring in Addis Ababa,” Kasiva says. “Armed with a single-stringed lute called masenqo, the Azmari walk around from group to group, inventing creative lyrics to poke fun at their listeners.” In the song, Kasiva celebrates this overlooked form of expression in a playful blend of rhythm and sharp vocals.

‘Conundrum’ explores the questions and doubts that beset us daily. The percussionist takes a philosophical view, stating that some of these questions stem from ignorance, while others go beyond the human perspective. As such, we have to find a way of knowing our true purpose.

The other tracks on this expertly arranged collection are ‘Bantu’, ‘Uhuliranga’ and ‘Bam Chikicha’. Short as it is, the EP is Kasiva in her element, and the collection is an incredible addition to Africa’s rich musical heritage.

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