Saturday, July 04, 2015

Kenya play that country sound . . .

Sir Elvis
Country Music
Will Swanson

As I said only two days ago, "I learn something new every day." Well, to be frank, I'm not sure I learned anything new yesterday, but I did learn something new the day after yesterday . . . which I believe we call "today," though if I rightly recall, it was called "tomorrow" back then. Time. Who can understand it?

But enough metaphysics. What did I learn today? I learned there is something called "Kenyan country music." Meaning American country music played by Kenyans. In Kenya! According to Isma'il Kushkush, "Country Music Finds a Home Far From Home, in Kenya" (NYT, July 1, 2015), and here it is:
Sir Elvis, dressed in a yellow and black plaid shirt, jeans, boots and a black cowboy hat, tuned his guitar under the wooden roof and neon beer advertisements of the Reminisce Bar and Restaurant. With a signal to the band, he began singing . . . in a purring baritone . . . . This would not be an unusual sight for Nashville or just about any country tavern in the United States. Except this was not East Texas, but Nairobi in East Africa, where American country music has a surprisingly robust, and growing, following.
How did this happen?
"I grew up with it, and my parents loved country," said Elvis Otieno, 37, who has become perhaps the best-known Kenyan country performer. Sir Elvis, as he is known onstage, was born the year Elvis Presley died, and was named after him by parents who were big fans of the King.
That reminds me of something Charley Pride said about growing up listening to country music and never thinking that it might be just white folks' music. Like Pride, Kenyans listen to all kinds of American music:
But it is country music that has a strong hold. Country songs are regularly played on the radio. The Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation has a weekly radio show, "Sundowner," that often features country, while a private television station, 3 Stones, broadcasts a program called "Strings of Country." Reminisce and the Galileo Lounge here have weekly gigs, and the first country music fair in Kenya, the Boots and Hats Country Festival, took place in March [and] . . . . Kenyan country singers are writing their own music about love and longing, in an American twang.
I was used to Charley Pride singing great country music, but I still was surprised to learn that the country genre had Japanese fans. I discovered that fact in Berkeley, in the latter 1980s, when several Japanese girls appeared as dinner guests in the house where I lived on Alcatraz Avenue. During the after-dinner conversation, I happened to mention Hank Williams, and one of the girls became excited and cried out that she loved country music. How did this happen?
American country music has found audiences around the world, introduced by American soldiers to Japan, Korea, Thailand and Germany, and through Hollywood movies. Particularly devoted fan bases have grown in unexpected places like Australia, Jamaica and South Africa . . . . In Kenya, country music's popularity dates to the 1940s and crosses classes, but is especially pronounced in the central highlands, the country's farm belt. Many of the fans are over 50, but a younger generation who grew up listening to their parents' music also tune in.
But how did country music reach Kenya?
European settlers, mostly British, transported the music here during Kenya's colonial era, which ended in 1963. "We took it up from them," John Obongo, the host of "Sundowner," said of the Europeans . . . . Kenyans, Mr. Kimotho said, "can identify with the stories in the songs." A type of music called Mugithi, a genre developed in central Kenya and traditionally sung with guitar accompaniment in the Kikuyu language, has a country feel, giving its listeners an affinity for modern American country music.
I can imagine the affinity the Kenyans feel because of Mugithi, but did the British really carry country music to Kenya?

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At 5:37 PM, Anonymous said...

They may have, as the early English groups who propelled the Sixties revolution, Rolling Stones, Beatles Van Morrison etc open the way for Blues music to wider world audience so as I say "maybe"

At 6:42 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Interesting suggestion . . . if country is the blues, and maybe it is. Thanks.

Jeffery Hodges

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