Imagine an album recorded in a makeshift studio set up in such serene surroundings as the Nairobi National Park and a campsite right next to Lake Naivasha.
The making of the new album “Kodhi” by Ayub Ogada goes back to 2012 when British guitarist Trevor Warren travelled to Kenya to record an album with his old friend.
The two musicians had not met since 2007 just after Ayub’s critically-acclaimed album “En Mana Kuoyo” which contains his signature song “Kothbiro.”
Just before he left the UK where he had been based for almost 20 years, Ayub had played in a few recordings for Warren and his band at the time - Deva.
Ayub is a world-famous Kenyan performer with a career stretching back to his first group Black Savage and later African Heritage, which was formed in 1979 when he used the name, Job Seda.
One of his major contributions to world music has been his accomplished playing of the traditional 8-stringed instrument, the ‘nyatiti’ and his music has been widely used in films, famously “The Constant Gardener” and numerous documentaries.
So in 2012, the British guitarist was sent by the UK label Long Tale Records to travel to Kenya and record enough songs for a new album by Ayub.
The recording started in the pool house of Alan Donovan’s African Heritage House in the serene environment that stares out at the Nairobi National Park.
The third member of the recording sessions was Isaac Gem, a singer, guitarist, composer and engineer. Every day for one week, the musicians would drive on Mombasa road past Mlolongo to Donovan’s digs, set up the recording gear, and work on tracks till dusk.
“It was pretty surreal to me,” writes Warren on the liner notes of the album. “There was cheap rum, choking Nairobi traffic, 30 degrees heat in the morning and mosquitoes the size of bats.”
Among the famous visitors who came by during that period was the British pop superstar Gary Barlow who dropped in to record a session with Ayub for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee song.
During the second week, with the pressure of a deadline piling up, the musicians headed out to Lake Naivasha to record the vocals for the tracks they had worked on and to escape the daily commute in the Nairobi traffic to Donovan’s place.
By this time, Warren had begun to acknowledge that the task of recording an entire album in two weeks had been overly optimistic.
They set up the recording sessions at the Fisherman’s Campsite in Naivasha and when that spot became too noisy with the playful monkeys, they moved the recording to a den next to the house of their host Sean Ross - owner of the Camp.
At the end of two days, the group had recorded 8 vocal tracks and even had the time to play some impromptu gigs in local bars around Naivasha. They eventually returned to Nairobi, completed another 3 songs to make a total of 11, enough for an album.
Warren returned to the UK for the postproduction of the songs, fusing Ayub’s voice, his guitar, Isaac’s background singing and guitar and the sounds of the wildlife.
Among the session artistes who played additional music were Tim Watson through whom Warren had known Ayub, and who added some percussion to the mix, Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy and bassist Dudley Philips.
The music was put through plenty of editing, mixing and the mastering done in studios between the UK and Spain.
The album released internationally in April 2015 has the hallmarks of an Ayub Ogada album, deep vocals, often improvised storytelling, over gentle plucking of the nyatiti flavoured by additional guitar sounds.
The chilled mood of the album captures the serene surroundings in which the music was recorded.
“I am playing the nyatiti but it’s the approach that matters,” explains Ayub. “So, there is a range of styles, from jazz to funk, acoustic, instrumental. I am not really bothered by labels as long as its good music,” he says.
It may come as a surprise for many to realise that this is only the second solo album by Ayub Ogada and the first since “En Mana Kuoyo” which was released on Peter Gabriel’s Real World record label in 1993.
He says he has over 120 published songs that have been used in films, documentaries and collaborations with other artistes.
“The title of this new album is the Luo word for seed because I believe that human beings are the seeds of the universe.”
The album is distributed internationally by the Long Tale Recordings and is also available on iTunes and Amazon. More details are on www.ayubogada.com and on his Facebook page.