Drumming through the Ages: Elisha Nakali's rhythmic odyssey

Elisha Nakali playing drums

In the symphony of life, the beat of the drum echoes across continents, resonating with the pulse of humanity.

No one knows this better than Elisha Nakali, a man who has maintained a jaw-dropping grip on his bongo drum.

From his beginnings in a church choir to the global stage, his rhythms remain a testament to the enduring power of music to uplift, inspire, and unite.

The drum has shaped rhythms that transcend borders, earning him acclaim as one of Kenya's foremost drummers.

Over the past years, he has performed across the world, including in the US, Korea, Finland, Spain, Israel, Lebanon, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Born into a melodic tapestry in Vihiga County, Elisha's journey into the heart of music began in the embrace of his mother's Pentecostal Assemblies of God church choir.

The drum beats during the procession, igniting his passion, would become his life's anthem.

“At only six, I accompanied my mother to the church and realized some instruments were used to add flavor to the singing, resulting in congregants dancing to the tunes. For an aspiring musician and drummist, it was the place to be, a melting pot of musical styles,” said Elisha.

From humble beginnings, Elisha, fondly known as ‘Shoti’, honed his craft on makeshift instruments, transforming sufurias and metallic plates into vessels of rhythm.

It was during continued visits to the church that he developed a soft lining to the music since his mother was an alto singer in the church choir.

“When my mother noticed my natural talent, she took me to church where my talent was nurtured. Music was my calling,” he said.

His talent, nurtured by the rich soil of Kenyan culture, would one day blossom into a legacy that would span decades.

“From the moment I felt the pulse of the drum, I knew it was my destiny."

The drummer, singer, and architect, Elisha schooled at Kibera Primary before joining Parklands Boys High School.

Since the school was mostly dominated by Asians, Elisha decided to join Jamhuri High School during music festivals but study at Parklands.

“When I was at school, I didn’t enjoy music lessons. I decided to be sneaking to Jamhuri High who had a choir and would take it to the Kenya Music festival,” said Elisha.

It is during the school music festival that the then 10-year-old drum sensation met with the true taste of Kenyan cultural instruments.

Striking that membrane by his hand to produce a resonating sound that is carried over a large distance became part of his life. After high school, he joined the University of Nairobi for a Business Administration course.

His rhythmic prowess caught the ear of Dr. Arthur Mudogo Kemoli, a maestro of African music, who became Elisha's guiding star. Together, they embarked on a harmonious journey, their friendship harmonizing into a crescendo of creativity.

Besides Kemoli, Elisha had a soft leaning with other music directors including Prof. Washington Omondi, George Senoga-Zake, Peter Kibokosya, and Dr. David Zalo, who were attached to church choirs.

He attributes his success to church choirs. “I owe my success to my mentor, Dr. Arthur Kemoli, who saw me through my music industry journey. From the Friends Kariokor choir, to the Taifa Hall with the University of Nairobi, the Kenya Cultural Music Festival, and the famous Kenya Schools Music Festival,” said Elisha.

Elisha receives an award from the late President Daniel Arap Moi.

Elisha's drumbeats reverberated far beyond the borders of Kenya, captivating audiences on a global scale.

From the bustling streets of Nairobi to the hallowed halls of the University of Nairobi, his rhythms knew no bounds.

"Drumming is more than just music. It is a language that speaks to the soul, transcending barriers of culture and geography," Elisha said.

His fame soared as his rhythms danced with presidents and dignitaries, each beat a testament to the power of music to unite hearts and minds.

Yet amidst the accolades, Elisha remained grounded, his kitenge shirts a vibrant symbol of African heritage.

As his fame grew, Elisha became a beacon of inspiration for aspiring musicians, his rhythmic legacy echoing through generations.

From the dusty streets of Kibera to the grand stages of international music festivals, his drumbeats echoed with a timeless resonance.

Dr. Ruth Agesa, the CEC Education Vihiga County, and former Kenya Music Festival Executive Secretary, termed him a rare talent.

"Shoti is a musical genius. His talent is a force of nature, a symphony of rhythm that captivates all who hear it. His star has risen," said Dr. Agesa.

Evans Ngadi, choirmaster, Friends Church Kariokor, said Elisha has cut a niche in the world of drumming.

“He can free-hand a straight line and has an impeccable touch and feel. The average drummer would bristle at such blatant encroachment in his turf. When I was in my teens, I used to see him with the Friends Church Kariokor choir in the 80s; he has stood the tides of time,” said Evans.

Blasto Ooko, who is the artistic director of ACK, St. Luke’s Makupa choir, said; "I have known Elisha for many years, and I am constantly impressed with his improvement. He has potential and is a role model for young musicians," said Blasto.

Recently, Elisha formed Olive Singers, an acapella group, which brings together the finest talents in the country, creating a central hub for sensational performances from around the world.

Shem Nyabera, the State Department of Petroleum choir, termed his talent as God-given.

“We have all wished we had more 'natural talent' as drummers as he is. Whether it is a desire to play with greater speed, better groove, or with more creativity – he always knows what is required in a piece of music, which plays to his advantage,” said Shem.

Elisha Nakali

Elisha was nominated and won in the African American Divers Culture Awards, which is the Governor’s Award in Hawaii, US in 2010, New York City Awards as a best percussionist, 2015, and South Korea, IYF Awards, 2005.

He is a member of the Christian Academy, Atlanta Georgia, US, United Christian Churches Ministerial Association, US, United Cultural Empowerment and Social Community Organisation, Switzerland, Good News Mission Network, South Korea, and African Prevention Against Suicide, South Africa.

"Drumming is a way of life. It has provided for my family, educated my children, and fueled my dreams. I will drum to the grave,” he said.


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