When you think of country music, the first thing you think of probably isn’t Kenya. You think of the United States, of cattle ranching, of cowboy boots, or line dancing. But Kenya is the place where one local musician, Sir Elvis, is finding growing popularity.
Nairobi, Kenya has nearly 4 million people, including local celebrity Elvis Otieno, also known as Sir Elvis. He was born in a rural area. He’s the son of a preacher. He has always found country music to resonate with his life, even if it’s far away from the cowboys of the United States. Says Otieno, “My mom and my dad loved Elvis Presley and so when my mom gave birth to me, that was the year Elvis Presley died. Mysteriously, I became a musician,” Otieno said.
He also says that while it may surprise some back in the states, there is actually a huge audience in Kenya that loves country music. It’s not just him. “Way back then from 50’s and 60’s there has always been a country music program on the airwaves on Kenyan soil,” he explains.
Strings of Country is a popular television hosted by David Kimotho. Kimotho claims country took hold after Kenya freed itself from British colonial rule in 1963. He’s a big fan of Sir Elvis, and he understands why the performer is able to connect with country music in such an earnest way.
Sir Elvis loves to perform, and often shares the stage with other local favorites like Esther Konkara, an up-and-coming Kenyan country singer who emulates American country legend Dolly Parton. “I really love singing her songs. Most people say I sing like her, or she sings like me,” Konkara said. “Country has such rich themes, like love, God and country roads.” And they’re not alone.
For country fans in Kenya, country music has universal appeal in it’s themes and lyrics. The storytelling aspect of the music can be connected to and enjoyed by anyone. Everyone experiences loss and love, from Texas all the way to Kenya. Country lovers in the south might find that they have more in common with listeners in Kenya than they ever thought.