When thinking of Africa, rhinestoned country legend Dolly Parton wouldn’t be the first association you’d make.
I regress, the thought of country music most likely wouldn’t come close to surfacing.
Though, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the breathtakingly wild continent has more in common with America’s most celebrated music than you’d think.
“It talks about the way they had a lot of financial challenges in their home,” Esther Konkara says of Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors”, “That’s, more or less, like my story.”
Konkara is a musician from a poor community in Kenya, one of Africa’s most booming agricultural hotspots. She draws many comparisons between Parton’s famous autobiographical track about growing up poor in a rural area and her own upbringing. Though, Konkara says, not all the similarities are dismal. She references Parton’s “Heartsong” and her own village in Kenya.
“She sings about how she grew up as a kid and how the place is dear to her heart. This place…the mountains or hills, they are so dear to my heart. All my memories are built up around this place.”
A strong connection to the land and embracing humble upbringings is sparking interest in country music throughout Kenya, giving rise to names like Elvis Otieno, Kenya’s most popular country music star, as reported by ABC.
Born three months after the death of Elvis Presley, Otieno, simply known as Sir Elvis in Nairobi, agrees there’s something in the land that makes country music relevant in Kenya.
“Kenya is a farming country,” he says, “so that really concurs with the country style of writing. I think that’s one of the many, many things that made people like country music here.”
And let’s not forget about the sound. For us, the genuine country sound is what drew us to the genre in the first place. Catherine Ndonye, a Nairobi radio host, says country’s acoustics alone resonate seamlessly across Kenya.
“Naturally, the way country music is, it’s melodious,” she says. “We like something that has melody and something that we can also sing along to. Something we easily understand.”
Watch the video below to witness just how popular country music has become in rural Kenya.
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