Dance earns Isukuti group global recognition

When they decided to register a dance troupe in 1994, the Isukuti Dancers of Kakamega never expected to perform on the international stage.

The word 'isikuti' is said to have been coined from the words "it is good" reportedly uttered by the white man in the pre-colonial era as he enjoyed the music.

Years later, the music would prove to be good for the likes of David Andole, the troupe's organising secretary.

Born 35 years ago in Emachina (a village of many rocks), Mr Andole says the current performers inherited the dance from their fathers.

“We are not the pioneers of 'isukuti'. We just inherited the group from our fathers. What is different from the initial group is that we registered ourselves with the Department of Heritage and Culture in 1993,” he said.

The formation of the group was meant to bring together dancers who usually clashed at events.

Talented volunteers

Andole said the group enrolled a high number of talented volunteers, prompting the idea to split the dancers into manageable groups.

“It became hard to monitor the members who came from Shinyalu and Ikolomani constituencies because the two areas were far apart. We saw it fit to split the group but maintain the unity to lower the costs of transport during training and performances,” he said.

The group comprises both men and women.

The group’s international performances began in Algeria - during the Pan Africa Cultural Festivals - in 2009.

The festivals brought together African states to showcase their cultural performances over 21 days.

In 2014, the 'isukuti' dancers were lucky to be one of only two groups that represented Kenya at the Smithsonian Folklife Festivals in the US.

They have also been privileged to interact with other nations globally through their unique dance and instruments.

The dancers were also selected to perform in Uganda last year, and a host of counties in Kenya during different events.

According to Johnstone Asutsi, the group uses wooden drums made from two special trees - mukomari and mung’oma - to produce the unique sound.

Monitor lizard

Mr Asutsi, the director of the Matende sub-group of the 'isukuti' dancers, said the front part of the drums must be made from the skin of a monitor lizard (burukenge).

“Apart from the drum, there are rings and jingles played by hand, which makes the music even more attractive,” he said.

What earned the dancers global recognition was their performance in Paris, France, following an invitation by the United Nationals Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

The troupe was inscribed by Unesco, who said the dancers were an "intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding."

The group has also performed during major national events in the country.

Isukutiglobal recognition