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Kenyans have been listening to country for 50 years -- ever since Kenya gained independence from Britain. The songs were especially popular in the country’s farming areas. But the homegrown country music industry in Kenya still has a long way to go. One artist driving the movement forward is Elvis Otieno, known as "Sir Elvis." NewsHour special correspondent Nick Schifrin reports in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
On a Wednesday night in Kenya's capital, the music is flowing. We're six thousand miles from Tennessee. But tonight Nairobi looks — and sounds — a lot like Nashville.
Elvis Otieno — that's his real name — was born in 1977, the same year Elvis Presley died. Otieno's parents named him after The King–sealing his fate.
I tried everything I could in my life to be an engineer – an aeronautical engineer. But it was never to be, because I think music was my calling.
He's now known as "Sir Elvis." He thought about becoming a rock musician. But he identified more with country.
It's down home stories that I resonate with.
When he started performing 10 years ago, he was the first Kenyan to sound like the original artists.
If you're playing Beethoven, you have to sound authentically Beethoven. If I sing Jim Reeves, it has to have a silky velvet way of it.
He's original. His voice. It's out of this world.
He's as genuine as the music. Because you can't do this stuff if you don't believe in it.
Howdy, folks. Hi there and welcome to the Strings of Country interview.
David Kimotho hosts a weekly show called Strings of Country. Sir Elvis is his best known guest.
There are a lot of guys who want to play like him. They want to sing like him. So he is actually, you know, growing the industry.
Kenyans have been listening to country for 50 years — ever since Kenya gained independence from Britain.
Even though we were colonized by the Brits, you know, what we were exposed to was American music. It resonates because of the message. We can identify with the stories.
Country was especially popular in Kenya's farming areas.
Elvis says his life is a little bit country. He lived in a farming area near the end of a rail line.
In Kenya, people to work so hard to get the harvests. When they came to realize that there is a style of music that actually goes along with this kind of lifestyle, they embraced it.
Is there one song in particular that Kenyans always ask for?
Yes. "You're My Best Friend" by Don Williams.
The homegrown country music industry here has a long way to go. Even Elvis has not recorded any his own original songs…yet.
I'm so excited about it, because this is going to be my first single.
Sir Elvis believes in a famous saying: country music is "nothing but three chords and the truth."
Sometimes life is sad. Sometimes life is happy. But we always keep the joy of the music.
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