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Folk traditions and storytelling drive the work of one Kenyan musician

Rapasa Nyatrapasa Otieno’s musical upbringing continues to drive his creative output.

“It was always there: birthdays, marriages, funerals, it’s part of the community,” he says. “We didn’t have to understand; it was just around us.”

His songs of Kenyan origin borrow from the traditions of the Lüo community, using the nyatiti instrument- a stringed, plucked bowl.

“Stories of where I grew up and folk tales influence me,” says Rapasa.

“I also listen to West African music like Habib Koite. “I like it when artists carry their traditions and infuse them with others.”

He moved to Nairobi in search of creative experiences and then to the UK to work with other artists.

“Traditionally, my instrument can be limited in where it can go,” he says. “When I collaborate with others, I respect their instrument’s sound.”

Rapasa first saw The Glasshouse when teaching a workshop at Newcastle University in 2018. He was curious and asked his hosts what it was.

“I needed to progress to the next stage of my career,” he says. “A friend told me about the Artist in Residency programme at The Glasshouse, and I thought it was a great opportunity.”

It was meaningful to reach new people who did not speak his language.

“My work centres around storytelling,” he says. “When I translate too much, it loses meaning and weight. I wondered how to involve the audience and decided to incorporate projections.”

Working with a Kenyan dancer, Choreographer and digital arts expert living in France, Rapasa represented his sound on a screen.

“We used software where the frequencies of instruments can manipulate images,” Rapasa says. “The audience sang and was a part of the manipulation.”

After the residency, he realised he might not be able to afford his projectionist to come over for a UK tour.

“With help from The Glasshouse Artist Development team, I applied to the Develop Your Creative Practice fund from Arts Council and learned to code.”

Studio production costs are expensive. Rapasa wanted to learn the basics of mixing and producing during his residency.

“I made a vinyl record of 11 songs called KWEChE, which is on sale on Bandcamp,” says Rapasa. “I’m very proud of it.”

The Glasshouse is a home for emerging musicians like Rapasa.

“It’s not just about playing the music,” he says. “You need to understand how things work in marketing and other areas.”

“Emerging artists can struggle to find and afford space to create or present work.

The residency opened doors for Rapasa. His popular track Ongogo, has been played on the radio in the UK and in the US.

“Without The Glasshouse, I wouldn’t have been able to make my record. I did this with a good team around me.”

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