We had the good fortune of connecting with Oneko Arika and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Oneko, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
Pursuing an artistic and creative career for me was absolutely an involuntary reflex action. Music runs in my blood, in fact it IS my blood. I pursued several other trades, from law, to construction, to bookkeeping. But all of my paths just kept bringing me back to music. Making music and other creative endeavors gives me a fulfillment like none other and it truly makes me a better person. I feel my purpose when I’m creating. Its given me the opportunity to travel the world and perform with artists who have inspired me for my whole life, and witness how others are inspired by them as well. The opportunity within my career to travel has opened my eyes and given me an education that you can’t get from books. And the fact that I can share my experience with the youth in my community through teaching has inspired me even more. That gives me the chance to make an impactful difference in more lives which gives me even more fuel to continue creating.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
When I started playing drums it was a little bit tough. To pick the right time was difficult as everyone had a different time of day to rest. It seems the time I always chose was someone’s rest time. As a little boy I was known for playing tins and things like that during the day. I would get into trouble for knocking on tins at 2 in the afternoon! The only thing that kept me going is the fact that at least one person would always comment about the sound in the streets. A lady from the Kenya National theater during one of my first live performances said that my drums are “too alive” in the show! For me that was a huge moment of encouragement! Carrying the drums to the venues in my early days was another challenge given the nature of the drums made from animal skins. They were a bit “stinky” for the rest of the commuters and the matatu (minibus) operators would discriminate against me! But still the sound of the drums is always calling. As the influential reggae singer (Burning Spear) once said, “as a musician, you will know when you create a good sound.” This gave me the influence to hear the keyboard sounds, the guitar, the bass and even the voice in the vibrations of my drums. You just need to listen. Keep still. That’s the other virtue that I got from drumming. The stillness within the vibrations. In a rushed world, stillness is always a good place to go.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The thing about LA is that you definitely have to experience it to really get the picture. There’s a fantasy that is not really the reality of the broader place. You see the homeless people in this place and their reality is much different. It’s a place for dreamers and actors and artists. The world famous Dub Club in Silverlake is on the list for a visit. Here you can interact with people who have shaped reggae music all over the world. Also of interest to my music heads would be the Kingston 12 Hifi studio run by the one and only Shinehead with his partner Papalotl. It’s an amazing hang out place during live broadcasts with world renown artists. The museum and visual art spaces too are plenty! It’s always worth checking out the current shows and exhibits. My foodie friends will be in heaven when I take them to a couple of my faves, Erehwhon on Beverly and Urth Cafe to name a few. Hikes and mountain climbs from Runyon Canyon to the rocks in the desert in Joshua Tree give the vibes of connecting with Africa with the visual and spiritual experience. Outdoor trips to these places would definitely be part of the itinerary.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I have a lot of people to shoutout for helping me get where I am. Of course I have to thank the most high God for the talent and health that makes it possible for me to do the work that I love. There’s also plenty of individuals who have inspired me both directly and indirectly. From normal interactions with the owner at a local grocery shop, interactions in the streets of Nairobi, to the homeless guy at the boulevard in Hollywood. Different times always bring inspiration from what some think are unusual places. Being receptive to the creative aspects of all whose paths I cross open me up to a new creative universe. I would like to also give a special shoutout to Pato Banton who has been a huge influence in my career and my life. His music along with Tippa Irie helped me decode Jamaican Patois. Pato also gave me my first big opportunity to perform on US soil, and we have continued together for the last 12 years. I also have Don Carlos and Pipe Matthews of Wailing Souls to thank for their influence. Their style is deep but simple.
Farah Sosa Lynn Rossetto