Nyokabi Kariũki is a composer and sound artist who works between her Kenyan homeland and the United States. Her work spans classical contemporary and experimental-electronic music, sound art, pop, film, and (East) African musical traditions. Feeling Body is her new album and like so many artists in recent years its inspiration came from the pandemic. In Kariũki’s case she was living with the physical and emotional pain of long-COVID. You can hear this in the emotion at the end of the title track when Kariũki says “Part of being sick is realising how much your body is out there for you. Maybe this is the biggest thing, this is really why I called it ‘Feeling Body’ because…just realising…holy crap! My body is going, despite…despite all of the pain that it’s feeling, it’s going on”.
Feeling Body is in part a sound diary charting the start of illness through to a return to health, but it’s also a way of Kariũki trying to process the emotional anguish and make sense of the terrible price it extracted. The journey starts with ‘Subira’, inspired by a Swahili proverb that translates to ‘when you are sick, have patience’. ‘fire head’ has repetition of the phrase “Are you okay?” which is poignant and creates tension from the fact that the simplest of questions, out of genuine concern for your health, almost becomes a taunt when heard so often in a prolonged illness. Kariũki regards this as one of the hardest pieces of music she’s ever written.
‘quiet face’ and ‘folds’ build on multiple voices flashing around like fireflies, looping into a heavenly soundscape, and ‘quiet face’ is based on the solace Kariũki found through long-COVID communities on Reddit. The final track ‘Nazama’, which means ‘to sink’ in Swahili, is the sound of Kariũki’s recovery and it’s awash with a sense of relief woven into with the sound of breathing and bubbling water (a recurring motif in her work).
If you like music as an immersive experience, then time spent with Feeling Body is rewarding in the depth with which it interprets Kariũki’s long-term illness. It’s an art installation for the mind with its use of field recordings, electronics, voice and instruments on select tracks*) and it gives form to an anguished beauty in the way it blurs the line between the corporeal and the ethereal.
The Bandcamp page has the digital download as well as a cassette and a book, from which all profits will be donated to Body Politic, a queer feminist wellness collective that hosts the COVID-19 Support Group.
Nyokabi Kariuki – voices (all tracks), clarinet (track 5)
Yaz Lancaster – violin (track 1, 2, 4), voice (track 2)
Michael Denis Ó Callaghan – trumpet (track 2, 3)
Chris O’Leary – drums (track 3)
Ian Fales – double bass (track 6)
Review by Paul F Cook