Caption: Ogoya Nengo and the Dodo Women’s Group performing at Cafe Oto, May 21 2016. Image Credit: Liz Potts
Last month Ogoya Nengo and the Dodo Women’s Group performed live at Café Oto in Dalston, North London and I was lucky enough to go. Ogoya Nengo was joined by two other singers dressed in brightly coloured ‘sisal’ skirts over shorts in the colours of the Kenyan flag. They were accompanied by a handful of musicians playing drums and thum. The performance began with a dramatic ululation that very quickly got the crowds attention and silenced the chatter. They went on to perform a number of songs and dances using different combinations of singers and musicians, exiting the stage between each performance. I must confess I was unfamiliar with dodo music and dance but I enjoyed the performance a great deal. Seeing it, however has, left me with a number of questions why do they leave the stage after each song, what do the lyrics mean and in what context did this art form develop? Above all, I was intrigued by the performance of laughing by one of the male musicians who, on stage alone, demonstrated a range of what sounded like ‘laughs’.
Since the concert I have been trying to find out a bit more about dodo. Hellen A. O. Agak says that dodo is a dance performed by women of reproductive age and that the songs which accompany the dance allow woman to voice their concerns and also to educate younger women and girls. While, much of the marketing around the concert emphasised the music as timeless and mystical both Agak and Charles Nyakiti Orano locate the origins of the style to a very specific time and place. Dodo performances seem to have developed in the period shortly after World War II among the Luo.
Ogoya Nengo herself was born in Magoya, Nyanza in 1943 suggesting her career developed alongside the genre itself. According to Orano it was a fruitful time for Luo music with genres such as Dodo, Bodi, Onandu, Oruta and Gita all developing at this time. He argues that this flourishing was driven by Kenyans adapting outside influences (which were becoming more widespread) into pre-existing styles. Orano and Agak give differing, but not mutually exclusive accounts of the development of dodo. Agak says it derives from the Salo dance which was usually performed by older women for a younger generation of women. While Orano argues that the genre gained popularity alongside the development of commercial brewing and the widening availability of mass produced alcohol. Previously brewing had been done to mark important occasions and had been done at parties which also featured singing and dance. As this practice declined new forms of entertainment, such as dodo, developed. I fear that the emphasis on timelessness on the part of promoters when it comes to music and art from Africa often obscures histories that are much more interesting and complex and reinforces stereotypes of Africa and Africans as unchanging.
My brief research into dodo has left me with far more questions than answers and I’d if anyone out there has any more information about dodo, Ogoya Nengo herself, or the performed laughing I’d love to hear from them!
Agak, Hellen A. O. Dodo Performance: an avenue for education in and through music. In, Emerging Soloutions for Musical Arts Education n African, Anri Herbst (ed), 2005
Orano, Charles Nyakiti Performance styles of selected Luo contemporary genres. In, Emerging Soloutions for Musical Arts Education n African, Anri Herbst (ed), 2005