In November 2020, Nyokabi Kariũki entered and won SA Recordings’ “Recompose” Competition, which invited musicians to recompose a song from ‘3’, the most recent and highly acclaimed solo album from Grammy-nominated producer and composer, Alev Lenz. The competition was hosted by one of the biggest UK-based music technology companies, Spitfire Audio, and SA Recordings, their record label.
The music video for Nyokabi’s winning entry was created by British video animator Prehuman, who has worked with other notable musicians including Yoko Ono, Sinkane, and Bombay Bicycle Club. In the collaborative spirit of the “Recompose” Competition, Nyokabi and Alev Lenz both created their own hand-drawn illustrations that were featured in the video, bringing the musical experience to life.
Judged by Lenz as well as Martin Phipps, who has written music for numerous films and series (including Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ and ‘Black Mirror’), Nyokabi’s recomposition of Lenz’s song, “Fishermen”, stood out from over 100 submissions from all over the world. Lenz praised Nyokabi for her “unique voice”:
“Nyokabi’s work is unforgettable. It is cold and wet. It represents water. Maybe the threat of the fishermen or the knowledge of the ocean creatures? It is not safe, it is a unique voice and sets the stage for a new interpretation of the music; a new medium it could live in, through Nyokabi, a new room she has opened and welcomes us all into. Dive in at the deep end, learn to swim again.”
As a composer born and raised in Kenya, it is no doubt that there is a significance in not only Nyokabi’s win, but also in her emergence as a voice in the contemporary music scene on a global stage. Her genre bending recomposition of Lenz’s song explores not only vocals and electronic experimentation, but also her connection to heritage through her playing the mbira (or kalimba)—a distinctly African instrument.
ABOUT NYOKABI KARIŨKI
Nyokabi Kariũki (b. 1998) is a Kenyan composer and performer based between New York, Maryland and Nairobi. Her sonic imagination is ever-evolving, with compositions ranging from classical contemporary to choral music, film, experimental pop; and further includes explorations into sound art, electronics, and (East) African musical traditions. As a classically-trained pianist of 16 years, and as a vocalist who has been self-teaching instruments from the African continent (particularly the mbira), she embraces the title of composer-performer often. Her art seeks to bridge her many influences — from her African upbringing to her Western classical training — together into a mélange of accessible, evocative, and meaningful art.
Nyokabi’s works have been performed across the United States and internationally, and she has been commissioned by various performers and ensembles including the Brooklyn Youth Chorus Men’s Ensemble and the Heartland Marimba Quartet. Several of her collaborations with filmmakers, choreographers and/or other artists have been seen at events including the Out of Africa Film Festival (Nairobi, Kenya), the Melbourne Fringe Festival (Melbourne, Australia) and Lincoln Center’s Dance on Camera Festival (New York). In addition to fulfilling several commission projects, Nyokabi is also working towards the release of new recorded music.