Sir Elvis in "Loving Man" (Youtube)

6 African Country Musicians You Should Check Out

Featuring Sir Elvis, Jess Sah Bi & Peter One, Emma Ogosi and more.

With Lil Nas X's EP going straight to number on the American charts, it seems like country music revival is taking over 2019 and beyond, thanks to its unlikely fusion with trap music. It only makes sense that black people are reclaiming the genre, as country was actually partly created by black American artists and heavily influenced by gospel music.

On top of that, plenty of lesser known black artists and bands are making country, or country-infused, music. This is especially the case in Africa, where the genre has been around for a few decades and an increasing number of musicians are gaining momentum. By gaining popularity in Africa, country is coming back to its roots, as country guitar and the way of playing it was originally inspired by the banjo— an instrument that African slaves brought with them to America.

Country music has a strong appeal across the African continent for several reasons: the similarity with many African instruments and the recurring lyrics and themes about love, heartbreak and "the land." At the heart of it, country music has an appeal to working class people all over the world who feel let down by the people that were supposed to help them.

Country music is played regularly on the radio in countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi but yet, the artists featured are overwhelmingly white and American. African country singers do not get the respect they deserve or are seen as anomalies. With the growing number of them making country music, here is a list of the ones you need to listen to right now.

Sir Elvis

Elvis Othieno, also known as Sir Elvis, is a popular Kenyan musician who grew up with country-loving parents. Elvis is his real name (no, really) and he was born three months after the legendary singer died. Inspired by Gary Brooks and Hank Williams, he started making music while attending college. He wanted a unique name, while paying his dues, and picked his moniker to stir away from the obvious Elvis Presley reference. Sir Elvis has contributed largely to the popularity of country music in Kenya. Since Agriculture dominates the Kenyan economy, it's no surprise that country music is especially popular in the nation's farming areas.

Ogak Jay Oke

Nigerian country singer Ogak Jay Oke, like most people on this list, was introduced early to country music through his religious upbringing and church ties. He's pushing to make the genre more popular across Nigeria and is the president of the Country Music Club in his hometown of Port Harcourt. Inspired by Jim Reeves, Skeeter Davies and Don Williams, he released his first album, Another Day, in 2016. He recently released a new single "Here Comes the Bride," an homage to his wife.

Jess Sah Bi & Peter One

The Ivory Coast duo Jess Sah Bi & Peter One gained fame and recognition in Western Africa after the release of Our Garden Needs Its Flowers in 1985, an album that was influenced by country, disco and folk music. Their lyrics—sung in English, French and Gouro (a Mande language from Ivory Coast)—were pretty political, calling out inequality and social issues across African countries. One of the reasons behind their pan-African appeal was that they encouraged African people to stand together in unity and called for an end to apartheid. Their album was re-released in 2018 by Awesome Tapes From Africa, helping a new generation of music lovers to discover them.

​Esther Konkara

Christian country singer Esther Konkara hails from Kenya and is heavily inspired by Dolly Parton. Themes such as love, financial hardships, heartbreaks and the striking descriptions of small towns are what drew her to country music. It makes sense, since she grew up in a small rural village herself. Her album Turi Ahotani was released in 2015 and she recently shared her new single, "Rimwe Ria Kuigana." She took part in Kenya's first ever country music festival, The Boots And Hats Festival, in 2015 and is now performing across the country.

Emma Ogosi

One of the pioneers of country music in Nigeria, the singer Emma Ogosi released a country-disco album entitled Nobody Knows in 1981. Inspired by the thriving disco scene at the time as well as multiple country influences, he came up with a record that's both groundbreaking and intimate. Ogosi was once married to popular Nigerian reggae artist Evi-Edna Ogholi. He was also a band member of The Expensive and a former air officer. When Evi-Edna fled Nigeria to Paris, he stayed. Despite the fact that he hasn't released an album in years, the mysterious man still sings and is the head of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria.

Poor Charley Akka

Nigerian act Poor Charley Okaa released his album Don't Cry in 1983—a funk, soul and country infused EP. Very little is known about the musician and his music is notoriously hard to find. However, his song "Be in Your Arms" is one of the most famous Nigerian country music tracks and was featured on the album Like Nashville In Naija, a compilation featuring many country or country-inspired musicians from the West African nation.

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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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: South Africa Is Currently Embroiled in Xenophobic Attacks

"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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Cellou Binani/Getty Images

Several People Have Been Killed During Protests in Guinea

Guineans are protesting against changes to the constitution which will allow President Alpha Conde to run for a third term.

At least five people have died during protests in Guinea's Conakry and Mamou after police opened fire on them, according to Aljazeera. The protests come just after President Alpha Conde instructed his government to look into drafting a new constitution that will allow him to remain in power past the permissible two terms. Conde's second five-year term will come to an end next year but as is the unfortunate case with many African leaders, the 81-year-old is intent on running for office yet again.

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Photo by Hamish Brown

In Conversation: Lemn Sissay On His New Book About Re-claiming the Ethiopian Heritage Stolen From Him by England’s Foster Care System

In 'My Name Is Why,' the 2019 PEN Pinter award winner passionately advocates for children in the institutional care system, and in turn tells a unique story of identity and the power in discovering one's heritage.

It took the author Lemn Sissay almost two decades to learn his real name. As an Ethiopian child growing up in England's care system, his cultural identity was systematically stripped from him at an early age. "For the first 18 years of my life I thought that my name was Norman," Sissay tells OkayAfrica. "I didn't meet a person of color until I was 10 years of age. I didn't know a person of color until I was 16. I didn't know I was Ethiopian until I was 16 years of age. They stole the memory of me from me. That is a land grab, you know? That is post-colonial, hallucinatory madness."

Sissay was not alone in this experience. As he notes in his powerful new memoir My Name Is Why, during the 1960s, tens of thousands of children in the UK were taken from their parents under dubious circumstances and put up for adoption. Sometimes, these placements were a matter of need, but other times, as was the case with Sissay, it was a result of the system preying on vulnerable parents. His case records, which he obtained in 2015 after a hardfought 30 year campaign, show that his mother was a victim of child "harvesting," in which young, single women were often forced into giving their children up for adoption before being sent back to their native countries. She tried to regain custody of young Sissay, but was unsuccessful.

Whether they end up in the foster system out of need or by mistake, Sissay says that most institutionalized children face the same fate of abuse under an inadequate and mismanaged system that fails to recognize their full humanity. For black children who are sent to white homes, it often means detachment from a culturally-sensitive environment. "There are too many brilliant people that I know who have been adopted by white parents for me to say that it just doesn't work," says Sissay. "But the problem is the amount of children that it doesn't work for."

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