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Esther Konkara in "Rimwe Ria Kuigana."

Country Music Has a Home In Africa

African artists are taking a hold of country music narratives and making them their own.

Country music has a surprising amount of blackness woven into the fabric of its history.

While American-style country music might not seem like the thing to catch on in Africa, it became extremely relatable through the parallels between the lifestyles of many African countries and working class America.

The term country music has come to encompass many styles and genres, including folk, with origins that can be traced back to working class Americans who blended popular songs with Irish and Celtic fiddle tunes, ballads, cowboy songs and the musical traditions of various groups of immigrants.

Despite its clear popularity on the African continent and the influence of artists like DeFord Bailey—who was one of the genre's first black stars and an influential harmonica player—country music continues to be considered a mainly white genre and is still mostly imported from America.


Sir Elvis - Loving Man youtu.be

This comes down mostly to what public radio stations play on the airwaves. Take Malawi for instance, where there's a radio station called MBC that devotes entire blocks to country music at a given time, but the music is nearly all from the United States. The program hardly plays music from anywhere else on the continent.

Kenya has also had extensive country music programming on the airwaves—the popularity of country music there dates all the way back to the 1940s when it was brought by colonialist during Kenya's occupation by the British. Both Kenya and Swaziland have music festivals dedicated solely to country and the prevalence of the acts at these festivals continue to be white and imported. But that's beginning to change.

Artists like Nigeria's Ogak Jay Oke, Emma Ogosi and Poor Charley Akaa have chosen to buck that trend, reclaiming those narratives for themselves and imbuing them with a truly African voice.

Young up and coming Kenyan country singer Esther Konkara, who felt particularly connected to the sounds of Dolly Parton, says she draws many comparisons between Parton's famous autobiographical track, "Coat of Many Colors," about growing up poor in a rural area and her own village upbringing. In Malawi, gospel artist Allan Ngumuya took inspiration from the '50s & '60s era of country music and started fusing country with gospel music.

ESTHER KONKARA RIMWE RIA KUIGANA OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO.SMS SKIZA CODE 86362552 TO 811 youtu.be

Kenyan country star Elvis Otieno also cites that era as his inspiration. His humble beginnings are something straight out of a country song. He was born in a small town on Western Kenya's railroad line. His father was a Pentecostal preacher who played gospel music on the guitar, but it was seeing Shania Twain in concert when he visited the U.S. that served as a catalyst for him to return to Kenya in 2003 and become the most successful country musician in the country.

Those elements emerge strongly in South African artist Bongizizwe Mabandla's sound. Singing in his native tongue of isiXhosa, he regales his audience with tales of his upbringing in the small town of Tsolo in the Eastern Cape. He uses the oral traditions of amaXhosa to expand on ideas of identity, culture and spiritually but he cautions against pigeonholing his music in the "Afro-folk" category.

ESwatini Country Music Festival coordinator Siphesihle Nkwanyana references Swati country legends Buddy Masango and Isaac Gamedze as paving the way for new artists like Dusty & Stones, who were awarded the 2017 Texas Sound International Country Music award for Best Duo. Back in Kenya, another local artist Carlos Piba says he hopes to record country music in Swahili one day.

This all marks a transition in the production of country music: we're exporting it now.

Interview
Justice Mukheli. Courtesy of Black Major/Bongeziwe Mabandla.

Interview: Bongeziwe Mabandla's New Album Is a Calm Meditation On Relationships

We speak with the South African artist about his captivating new album, iimini, love cycles, and the unexpected influence of Bon Iver.

"I've been playing at home for so many years and pretending to be having shows in my living room, and today it's actually happening," Bongeziwe Mabandla says, smiling out at me from my cellphone as I watch him play songs on Instagram Live, guitar close to his chest.

Two weekends ago, Mabandla was meant to be celebrating the release of his third album, iimini, at the Untitled Basement in Braamfontein in Joburg, which would no doubt have been packed with some of the many fans the musician has made since his debut release, Umlilo, in 2012. With South Africa joining many other parts of the world in a lockdown, those dates were cancelled and Mabandla, like many other artists, took to social media to still play some tracks from the album. The songs on iimini are about the life and death of a relationship—songs that are finding their way into the hearts of fans around the world, some of whom, now stuck in isolation, may be having to confront the ups and downs of love, with nowhere to hide.

The day before his Instagram Live mini-show, Mabandla spoke to OkayAfrica on lockdown from his home in Newtown about the lessons he's learned from making the album, his new-found love for Bon Iver, and how he's going to be spending his time over the next few weeks.

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Lueking Photos. Courtesy of emPawa Africa.

Interview: GuiltyBeatz Proves He's Truly 'Different'

The Ghanaian producer talks to us about his debut EP, Different, the massive success of "Akwaaba," producing for Beyoncé and more.

GuiltyBeatz isn't a new name in the Ghanaian music scene. A casual music fan's first introduction to him would've likely been years ago on "Sample You," one of Mr Eazi's early breakout hits. However, he had scored his first major hit two years before that, in the Nigerian music space on Jesse Jagz' and Wizkid's 2013 hit "Bad Girl." In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists.

In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists, having worked with the likes of Efya, Pappy Kojo, Sarkodie, R2Bees, Stonebwoy, Bisa Kdei, Wande Coal, Moelogo and many more over the last decade. The biggest break of the talented producer's career, however, came with the arrival of his own single "Akwaaba".

In 2018, GuiltyBeatz shared "Akwaaba" under Mr Eazi's Banku Music imprint, shortly afterwards the song and its accompanying dance went viral. The track and dance graced party floors, music & dance videos, and even church auditoriums all around the world, instantly making him one of Africa's most influential producers. Awards, nominations, and festival bookings followed the huge success of "Akwaaba." Then, exactly a year later, the biggest highlight of his career so far would arrive: three production credits on Beyoncé's album The Lion King: The Gift.

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Image via Wikimedia Commons

Nollywood Actress, Funke Akindele, Arrested for Throwing Party During Coronavirus Lockdown

Naira Marley, who was also in attendance, has also turned himself in according to local reports.

Star Nigerian actress, Funke Akindele, and her husband, rapper JJC Skillz, were arrested on Monday after hosting a party at their home which violated Lagos' coronavirus lockdown order.

The actress came under fire over the weekend, when footage of a party she threw for her husband's birthday began circulating on social media. The clips showed several people, including fellow Nollywood actress Eniola Badmus and Nigerian rapper Naira Marley, gathered inside of Akindele's Lagos home. According to a report from Pulse Nigeria, Marley also turned himself in on Monday for attending the function and will be arraigned.

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Screenshot from YouTube.

Watch Champagne69’s Music Video for ’15 Goons’

Champagne69 release a music video for their single '15 Goons.'

South African hip-hop duo Champagne69 shared a new music video for their single "15 Goons." The song was produced by NotBenjamin alongside Ezechiel (SorryZeke).

"15 Goons" is a minimalist 808 and bass-laden tune in which the duo glide with ease as they pay homage to their goons.

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