Exploring Sweden through music


Two years ago, while traveling to Sweden, I had the privilege to meet pianist Staffan Bråsjö and guitarist Tobias Andersson, both professional Swedish Folk-Jazz musicians. Since then we have cultivated a strong bond that extends beyond good music-company, to a lasting friendship.

It all started in 2017. Before arriving in Sweden, my partner Pia, who also assist me as a manager, wrote an email to a popular café in Rättvik, called Nyfiket, to inquire for a possibility to bring my Nyatiti Stories to their Swedish audience. At the time Staffan was in charge for organizing the music program and the band bookings for the café. Through Pia, I received an email response from Staffan. That email did not just contain the possibility of playing, but also a suggestion to play together, an offer accepted immediately, without hesitation.

Playing together was something interesting. To be able to explore our cultures together, and tell our stories through music, gave me new inspiration and energy. The similarities we share and the differences that come together during a concert was this year my main reason for the music tour in Sweden. It was at Nyfiket where me, Staffan and Tobias played our first concert, and as they say, the rest is history.

The first challenge we encountered in 2017 was a quick one-day rehearsal. Nyatiti music was something new to both Tobias and Staffan and we spend a whole day practicing and rehearsing. I was so amazed and happy that we managed to pull everything together and deliver a great concert within such a short time. I was nervous and tense at first. I am aware that Swedes love silence and calmness and here I was with a different style of music that demand body movements.

To be in another country, singing in a different language and been accompanied by very professional musicians, is to me the first process of getting out from your comfort zone, this is not an easy task. Will they like my music? How does Nyatiti music sound when they listen to it?  Is it something noisy and irritating? This and many questions were in my mind.

The response we received from the audience after our first gig was quite overwhelming. I was very happy to see the audience engaging with my music, both through singing and dancing. Swedish people are not only good listeners but also good dancers.

Playing with Staffan and Tobias have opened my mind of the many possibilities that exists when different cultures merge. Possibilities that are created when we allow others to share their stories, when we listen to others, and when we open ourselves and share our gifts.

It has been a month now since I arrived back in Sweden, this place I call my second home. Despite the fact that I have been here a couple of times I am still fascinated by the kind Swedish hospitality culture, its nature and more important the Swedish traditions.

While in Sweden my curiosity on different issues arises and I find myself struggling to understand many things about life, from culture and politics to economy and social life.

I am here not just to share my Nyatiti stories, but also to enjoy the best that Sweden has to offer, the Swedish summer. Summer is the best moment to experience and understand Swedes better. It is a period that brings families together, a moment to enjoy “fika” but also have intimate personal reflections about life.

Our first concert for the summer of 2019 was at our birth place; Nyfiket. Here we were joined by another friend, Tobias Karlehag, who plays the percussion. Tobias has a wide knowledge and experience in world music and has toured different parts of the world playing with various musicians. His presence in the band brings the positive African vibe, which blends perfectly with the rest of our instruments; this is good for Nyatiti music.

From Nyfiket we were invited to Leksand Hildasholm. Here I find a quite happy and intimate audience that we all enjoy playing for. This is the real Nyatiti stories experience, a moment to reconnect with self and others.

If you are a folk music enthusiast like me, summer is also the best period to participate and experience Swedish folk culture. Tobias and Staffan invited me to one of the biggest folk festivals in Sweden, called Bingsjö Stämman. The festival has a huge crowd that comes every year to play, listen and dance to folk music. I met some artists who were participating in a music exchange program called “Ethno Sweden” and we jammed. The rest of the night I spent listening to music and learning how to dance Swedish folk dance.

Our next stop after Leksand was Gotland. Here we were joined by my partner Pia and Tobias partner Flora. This is my first time to visit Gotland and we travelled by the ship late at night.  When we arrived in Gotland, I was so amazed by the landscape and the history of the place.

We visited the city of Visby and I was interested to understand why Gotland has some many churches, many of the churches I saw look abandoned and not fully completed for hundreds of years. Gotland has been very good to us, the reception we received from the concerts we did here, I will say it is the best.

The audience listened to our stories, they were very engaged when we played, as Sweden meets Kenya and vice versa.

Nyatiti stories Sweden tour provides an avenue for me to share my Kenyan story, a story which in my opinion has lots of similarities to Swedish folk stories. People are curious to know more about Kenya just as I want to understand more about Sweden. Playing music together with Staffan and Tobias has created a bridge to have better understanding of both cultures, the collaboration ascertains the fact that, as human beings, we share a lot of commonality and similarities. This can be identified through sharing our stories.

When we hear stories, we listen for answers that we can relate to our own lives. It is in having “fika” together, going to music concerts, taking a walk in the forest, a swim in a lake, watching birds and having a barbeque. These are things that connect one to have a better understanding of Swedish people.

My journey continues, and I am excited for our next stop, Stockholm.

Daniel Onyango

Published by Daniel Onyango

Daniel Onyango is a talented Nyatiti musician who has been playing the traditional Kenyan instrument for 14 years. Originally from Nairobi Kenya and currently living in Sweden, Daniel was exposed to the Nyatiti at a young age and has been passionate about the instrument ever since. Onyango's music is characterized by its unique blend of traditional Nyatiti melodies and contemporary influences. Daniel’s compositions are inspired by his life experiences and the stories of the people he has met throughout his travels. In 2020, Daniel Onyango released his first debut EP Nyatiti Stories together with two young Swedish jazz musicians. Since then, he has performed at numerous events and concerts both in Kenya and Sweden. With his mesmerizing performances and soulful melodies, Daniel has earned a loyal following both in Kenya and around the world. He continues to push the boundaries of Nyatiti music and is committed to preserving and promoting this unique art form for future generations.

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