In an earlier post I mentioned the strange love for Kenny Rogers in Kenya. "Our parents used to listen to him" one of my friends told me as we sat around bleary eyed and stoned at a party in Nyalenda, Kenny blaring in the background.
It was a somewhat disconcerting realization. What could Kenny's slick lamentations mean to an older generation of Kenyans? Was it the lyrics? The voice? That silvery patch of fur living on his face?
It wasn't just the middle aged. Even Ranking T, the Rasta/DJ/herbal entrepreneur, a man with otherwise impeccable taste in music, had a soft spot for Kenny.
Nobody could really explain it, but American country seems to translate well around the world. I've heard it in Iran, and friends who have traveled to South America tell me it has made its way down there. A veritable cockroach of world music. The only more resilient cultural artifacts I've come across are Mexican soap operas (which have taken TV sets in Kenya and Iran by storm).
Perhaps this isn't a coincidence. Mexican soap operas and American country have a lot in common--strong and simple stories, flailing emotion, sex, love, betrayal, high melodrama, and a feel for the melancholy. People all over the world seem to know and love these feelings and, for reasons unknown, Botoxed Mexican actors and that wily silver fox of the American South seem uniquely gifted at conveying them. The photo of the record at the top of this post is of a Kenny Rogers joint pressed in Kenya in 1979, sold by a Croatian record dealer with excellent feedback on eBay--physical proof that Kenny Rogers lives on in the world at large.
OK, I'll stop pulling this Tom Friedman-ery long enough to post some music. I've always heard a relation between American country and early Kenyan guitar music. This is a sweet song by Fundi Konde, one of the first and greatest of Kenyan guitarists, and it has that lilting country vibe... Daniel Katuga & Fundi Kondi - Ewe Nyota Zuhura.mp3