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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.


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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.

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University lecturer and activist Doctor Stella Nyanzi (L) reacts in court as she attends a trial to face charges for cyber-harassment and offensives communication, in Kampala, on April 10, 2017. (Photo by GAEL GRILHOT/AFP via Getty Images)

Jailed Ugandan Activist, Stella Nyanzi, Wins PEN Prize for Freedom of Expression

The outspoken activist, who is currently serving a prison sentence for a poem she wrote about the president's mother's vagina, won for her resistance "in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her."

Stella Nyanzi, the Ugandan academic, activist, and vocal critic of President Yoweri Museveni has been awarded the 2020 Oxfam Novib/PEN International award for freedom of expression, given to writers who "continue to work for freedom of expression in the face of persecution."

Nyanzi is currently serving a 15 month sentence for "cyber harassment" after she published a poem in which she wrote that she wished "the acidic pus flooding Esiteri's (the president's mother) vaginal canal had burn up your unborn fetus. Burn you up as badly as you have corroded all morality and professionalism out of our public institutions in Uganda."

According to the director of PEN International, Carles Torner, her unfiltered outspokenness around the issues facing her country is what earned her the award. "For her, writing is a permanent form of resistance in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her," said Torner at the award ceremony.

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Photo by coreay via Getty Images

Zambian Radio Station Bans South African Music

Popular station Hot FM Zambia says it will not play music by South African artists "in light of the xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals."

The Zambian radio station, Hot FM Zambia, says it will cease playing music by South African artists due to the current spate of xenophobic attacks in the country.

"In light of the xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa, Hot FM will cease to play music by South African artists on our airwaves until further notice," wrote the station, described as "number 1 for news and entertainment" in a post shared on its Facebook page.

READ: Burna Boy to Donate Proceeds from Upcoming Show In South Africa to Victims of Xenophobic Violence

"All African nations, whether Frontline states or not, stood by our South African kindred during their time of need, and together we embraced UBUNTU. Africa is one, and until such a time that our South African counterparts embrace UBUNTU again, our stand will be with all our African brothers being attacked and terrorized in that country."

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Photo: Ben Depp.

Watch Yilian Canizares & Paul Beaubrun's Beautiful Video For 'Noyé'

"Cuba and Haiti come together to share the love and heritage of our deep rooted culture and spirituality."

Yilian Canizares and Paul Beaubrun connect for the serene "Noyé," one of the highlights from Canizares' latest album, Erzulie.

The Cuban singer and Haitian artist are now sharing the new Arnaud Robert-directed music video for the single, which we're premiering here today.

"Noyé is a song that comes from our roots," Yilian Canizares tells OkayAfrica. "Inspired by the energy of love. The same love that kept Africa's legacy alive in the hearts of Haiti and Cuba. We wanted to do a stripped down version of only the essential pieces from a musical point of view. Something raw and beautiful where our souls would be naked."

The striking music video follows Canizares and Beaubrun to the waters of New Orleans, the universal Creole capital, where they sing and float until meeting on the Mississippi River.

"Noyé is a cry of love from children of African descent," says Paul Beaubrun. "Cuba and Haiti come together to share the love and heritage of our deep rooted culture and spirituality."

Watch the new music video for "Noyé" below.

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Photo by Robert Szaniszlo/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

Kenyan Athlete Eliud Kipchoge Nominated for Sportsman of the Year Award

The record-breaking marathon runner has been nominated for the top prize in the 2020 Laureus World Sports Awards alongside Lionel Messi, Tiger Woods, Lewis Hamilton and Rafael Nadal.

Sport24 reports that Kenyan athlete and marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge has been nominated for Sportsman of the Year in the 2020 Laureus World Sports Awards.

He's made the prestigious nominations list alongside Lionel Messi, Tiger Woods, Lewis Hamilton and Rafael Nadal.

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