Skip to main content

Search NYU Steinhardt

Concert Composition Alumna Nyokabi Kariuki Releases EP Inspired by Childhood in Kenya


Nyokabi Kariuki is a graduate of Concert Composition (BM ’20) and a Kenyan composer and sound artist. We got the chance to speak with Nyokabi to learn more about her new EP, experience performing in various settings, and her experience at NYU.

 Nyokabi Kariuki sitting on the floor with books and plants in the background

Can you talk about your experience at NYU?

It was a big sacrifice for my parents to send me to NYU. I was pursuing something a lot of people didn't necessarily understand or support. To me, music is such an important part of who I am. Art is so important to our heritage, as people from the African continent, and as humans.

At NYU I got to see how big the world of composition is. At 14, I knew I wanted to be a composer, but I thought being a modern day composer meant being a film composer. I came to NYU thinking this was what I wanted to do.

But, the Concert Composition Program is set to work closely with Screen Scoring and Songwriting.This was perfect for me because I discovered I liked all of them. I wrote songs and concert works. Being able to move among these different programs is a large part of how I discovered my unique voice.

My composition teacher for my final two years was Dr. Jerica Oblak. She was such a big part of my journey in terms of encouragement and mentorship. We had private composition classes, which went beyond simply giving feedback on the pieces I wrote. Many of my Professors, both in MPAP and the creative writing department (which was my minor), were so encouraging, supportive and understanding. They helped push me to find my voice as a musician, as a writer, and as an overall artist.

Another thing that was meaningful to me during my time at NYU was having the opportunity to put on my junior recital. Before, I had only heard my work performed in concerts with other composers, and was not always sure it fit in well. So the junior recital was pivotal for me, as I was able to plan a whole 30 minute concert of my original music. The experience gave me such confidence and direction.

A Concert Composition performance featuring Nyokabi Kariuki

What was winning the Spitfire Audio Recompose competition like?

After graduating from NYU in 2020, I was putting myself out there and applying to different composition and music-related things - calls for scores, commissioning opportunities, etc. A friend sent me a link to the first SA Recordings’ Recompose competition, where SA Recordings, a UK-based label, invited anyone to recompose one of the tracks on an album they released in 2019 called ‘3’ by Alev Lenz. I was drawn to Alev Lenz’s music. Some of her songs have been featured on series including Black Mirror on Netflix.

Recomposing someone else's work seemed like a fun idea, so I decided to send something in, and I ended up winning. This is how I was introduced to the label that released my debut EP, peace places: kenyan memories.

Your new EP, peace places: kenyan memories was released in February 2022. Tell me about it.

Each track on the EP is based on a place, which was meaningful to me growing up. I grew up in Kenya and then moved to the United States to pursue my undergrad degree at NYU. 

The idea was the percussionist was supposed to play it live, along with fixed electronics. I had a friend record the drum kit for one of the tracks and he had only one microphone. 

He mentioned it was okay, but posed a question that changed how I approached the process of writing the work. “Why don’t you mix it in the medium? If this is going to be heard electronically, then it doesn’t need to sound the exact way live drums would sound.” After this conversation, I realized I could finally throw out all logistics around live performance. I was able to get into experimenting with how electronics can yield interesting musical results.

One of the tracks, “A Walk Through My Cũcũ’s Farm” won an award at a radio art festival called The Hearsay International Audio Festival. I heard from audio makers who were interested in my work. It was mind blowing getting to meet and hear works by other people who interact with sound in ways other than music.

I completed the EP in October of last year, and it was released in February both digitally and on vinyl. Each track has field recordings from different places in Kenya and the sounds of my family: my mom, my dad, my grandmothers, and places that are special to me.

How did your EP lead you to performing with the Cello Octet Amsterdam at the 2022 Gaudeamus Festival?

After I released peace places, kenyan memories, I was invited to the Gaudeamus Festival in Utrecht, Netherlands to perform the music from the EP.

It was an interesting challenge to go about, because I had stopped thinking about how it would be performed live very early on in the creative process. And now I suddenly had to. I had a vision to perform it with a string ensemble, and the director of the Gaudeamus Festival sent me a list of some Netherlands-based ensembles. I knew I had to go with Cello Octet Amsterdam. There were other good options, but writing for these 8 cello players was so cool. It was so much fun working with them. The entire festival took place over the course of one week, and there were more than 70 concerts all over Utrecht. The festival was amazing.

Nyokabi Kariuki

Any advice for someone in the Concert Composition Program?

Don’t worry about the people who already have websites in their freshman year. I remember my first week was intimidating.

Pursuing art in an academic context can be difficult. I remember having conversations with people during my first week of school and being intimidated by how much experience they all seemed to have already! Eventually you figure it out. You’ll discover what your thing is and you will learn so much about yourself. It’s important to go on your own path.

What’s next for you?

I have an album coming up, which I’m excited about. It's out in March 2023 on a label called CMNTX Records, which was actually started by a group of former NYU composition graduate students. One of the pieces on the record is called ‘Feeling Body,’ which was recently commissioned by and aired on BBC Radio 3, in November. The track is still available to listen to online, and it’s also going to be heard in a 39 speaker sound installation at the Strand in London for the next 3 months. I'm super excited for the future and hope I continue to make music that resonates with people.

Related Programs

Concert Composition

Whether writing for orchestra or collaborating with choreographers, video artists and technologists, you can develop and expand your creative practice with dynamic peers, high level performers, and world-class faculty.

Read More

Related Departments

Music and Performing Arts Professions

Discover programs in education, composition, technology, business, theatre, administration, therapy, performance, and dance.

Read More