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The orutu is a one-stringed fiddle originated in the pre-colonial societies of western Kenya, especially amongst the Luo community.[1] The Luo had a strong tradition of stringed instruments and was famous for their skills with harps and lyres.[1] When played with a bow, orutu creates different notes determined by finger pressure against the central stick.[2]

Although this musical instrument is played a bit like a violin, it has a different, more African sound to it. It is accompanied by drums and singing, but these instruments are not very popular as most of Kenya is quite poor and not many have the money to afford the lessons of music or even afford the instrument. There aren't many teachers of this instrument either.

The term also refers to a genre of music in Kenya which involves this instrument. The instrument is also a central part of the benga musical genre, with the band Kenge Kenge Orutu System being the most prolific users of the musical instrument.


The orutu consists of a hollow wooden box that has monitor lizard skin stretched over one side. The string used to be sisal fibers but are now bicycle brake cables.[3]


  1. ^ a b wa Műtonya, Bosire, Maina, Catherine (2013). The Politics of Everyday Life in Gǐkűyű Popular Music of Kenya (1990-2000). Nairobi, Kenya: Twaweza Communications. p. 24. ISBN 9789966028440 – via Book Collection (EBSCOhost). 
  2. ^ "Day 2: Focus on the Nyatiti, Orutu and DRUMS! | Singing Wells". www.singingwells.org. Retrieved 2016-09-26. 
  3. ^ Yoder, Madeleine; Boeni, Meg. "A Musical Review: Instruments of the Folklife Festival". Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Retrieved 27 September 2016.