Saturday, November 4, 2017

Elvis Otieno - The Kenyan Country Music scene

Kenya is largely rural and the majority of the people are farmers, so perhaps it's not surprising to find that the themes of Country Music resonate there.  They resonate so much that there is a huge Country Music scene there.  Interestingly, it's not the new "Country Pop", but rather the music from the '70s and '80s - Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers.  Much of this is due to Elvis Otieno, known as "Sir Elvis":
The celebrated musician, who is determined to bring country music to Africa and in particular Kenya says it has not been easy. "Every time we hit the stage, it was always a shock to most locals who couldn't imagine that a Kenyan could do country. That is the reason they love to listen to old-school country from the 1960s, 70s and 80s recorded in Nashville by the likes of Charley Pride and Jim Reeves, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Don Williams and Skeeter Davis," he told Metropolitan.
It seems that Kenyan society is fertile ground for the themes of old school Country Music - God, hard work, family, striving, loss, but never giving up.
Despite being a Kenyan and an African, the story of his early life is straight out of an American country song. He was born in a whistle-stop town on Western Kenya's railroad line. He's the son of a pentecostal preacher who played gospel music on the guitar. 
"When I look back at my life, I'm like, okay, I think that's really country," he jokes. 
His family left Kenya for Norway when Elvis was seven, which explains the Scandinavian lilt as he croons Presley's songs. Norway is where he got serious about country music. He played in a country band. He started listening to new country, and as a student, he visited the US and attended in his first country concert: Shania Twain. 
Soon Elvis was consuming every country record he could find, finding a strong connection with the classic Opri-style country music made famous by Jim Reeves, Charley Pride and Dolly Parton, as well as new country sound of Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson. 
Inevitably, he picked up a guitar and started making music of his own. And much like the classic wayfaring loner from a country song, he hasn't looked back since.
Here's Sir Elvis, doing a cover of a great Randy Travis song.

1 comment:

Wolfman said...

Like docks, railroads are peculiar to the industry and the needs, and so are remarkably similar across the world. I should not be surprised that a musical style with strong ties to the American railroad towns is appreciated in similar places across the earth. Cool!