The magic of the Orutu

We all know of the Nyatiti and its significance in the history of music in Kenya. The less popular Orutu is still very apparent in the traditional Luo music scene. The Orutu is described as a one-stringed fiddle native to western Kenya that is played like many other stringed instruments but with an African sound.

The fiddle has gained infamy within the Benga and Ohangla communities particularly the Kenge Kenge Orutu Systems band that has played on international stages around the world. Its characteristic high pitch that is played with a bow and one string that can be at times raspy and hollow is a mainstay at celebrations such as weddings and common in traditional Luo ceremonies.

Usually carried with a fast beat and vigorous dancing, the Orutu is played by putting pressure on the strings of the instrument and dragging the bow along this string to produce sound. Exerting some tension on the string at various points produces a variety of sounds.

Orutu music is a genre by itself as well as being a musical instrument by itself. These days the orutu sound is not designated for music in traditional settings but is being incorporated more into contemporary forms of music. Keyboards have sometimes taken the place of the Orutu while the drums, bass guitar and mouth organ have provided accompaniment.


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