Regarding (American) Country Music in Nigeria



The other week my writing class finished and we all had to present a short piece of writing. Mine was the introduction of what I hope will eventually become an article based on the research I did into cowboys in Nigeria and my ideas about how to approach their illustrations in lorry art.[1] One of the questions I received as feedback regarded the influence of country music in Nigeria. I was already aware that there was a country music scene. I know of at least one dedicated radio station that continues to operate out of Jos and have read about Nigerian musicians recording their own version of US country music. Anyway, as life tends to go … This lunch break over a cup of tea I was idly flicking through some books and articles and stumbled across these nice references to the genre and its history in Nigeria. Since I need a reason to procrastinate a little longer I thought I'd share them with you.


'In Nigeria, the "near vacuum", in terms of repertoire of lyrics created by the absence of song-texts, in the early fifties and beyond, became a stimulus to an incursion by foreign discs. … Even the country music of Tennessee became Nigeria's early' morning, late-night and Sunday serenades. Jim Reeves established as the fore-runner of Don Williams. The death of Jim Reeves, following the release of his album "We Thank Thee" in which he sang "This World is Not My Home…" was near-national grief in Nigeria.' (Oti 2009: 22)

Regarding Jim Reeves, his popularity in Nigeria – and Kenya and Tanzania – has merited a mention in journalist Larry Jordan's (2011) biographyof the musician.

'"He's still the best-selling Western artist in Nigeria and Kenya" … Bob Kimsey, how has done missionary work in Nigeria confirmed that "Jim is still one of the most popular artists in that country. The Muslims pray over their loudspeakers before dawn and then they play Jim Reeves tapes over them all day and his voice can be heard throughout the country."' (Jordan 2011: 3)

Jordan does unfortunately not provide any references for that Bob Kimsey quote. So, I cannot tell where and when Kimsey may have heard Jim Reeves played through the loudspeakers of Nigerian mosques. I think knowledge of time and place matters here. A quick google search has not yet revealed that information and I cannot promise I will not forget about it once I've officially finished lunchbreak and went back to what I should be doing.

Here's another extract, this time from Pius Adesanmi's (2011) essay collection You're Not a Country The extract is from the beginning of the second chapter, Don Williams: Fragments of Memory .[2]

'America invaded my formative years in Nigeria through culture, mainly books and music. Indian (Amitabh Bachchan!) and Chinese (Bruce Lee!) films relegated American (John Wayne) movies to a distant background. In high school (Titcombe College), James Hadley Chase was our most mesmerising path to America. … We escaped the enchanting world of Hadley Chase's America only to be "arrested" by American musicians. Now this is where it gets really interesting. Of all the genres of American music that formed part of our cultural consciousness as young Nigerian schoolkids, country music came to acquire a significance that, years later, I would be at pains to explain to my American friends, especially African Americans. Kenny Rodgers entered Nigerian ears mainly with "The Gambler". Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors" resonated with us because so many of us could relate to the lyrics. …

… Pastor Kris Okotie did a fantastic version of James Taylor's "Carolina on My Mind". And there were songs by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, The Judds, and Ronnie Milsap, whose "Daydreams about Night Things" signalled the beginning of restless adolescent explorations of forbidden warrens of pleasure with the opposite sex that would end up in the ears of white Catholic priests at confession.

Then there was Don William! How a country musician from Floydada, Texas, became one of America's greatest gifts to the ears of my generation – pre-teen schoolkids in faraway Nigeria – is a matter that should detain all students of Africa and transnational aesthetic crossings.'

Adesanmi's essay continues to engage with his childhood excitement with country music and especially Don Williams – including the fact that, 'between 100 and 200 level at university' he learned that Don Williams may have been a racist. And, this is when he makes a point I probably should take up with regard to my own research and engage with (oh well, one more reason to re-read that chapter properly):

'You see, country music came to us in Nigeria without the baggage of America's race demons.'

And at that I leave you again. The clock just turned 1 pm and lunch break's over for good. Well, that means no links for you today. I just quickly post this and then it's back to serious critical engagement and writing. 

Edit: 5 May 2017 - Added links.




[1] I may or may not post this here. I read a lot of different non-fiction during that course and played around with some of what I liked about other writer's work – including in this piece. I am not quite sure yet whether it works. I have other writing though that only needs another edit and then may go up here to fill the time between topical posts. So, be warned.
[2] Bear with me regarding the citations, I own the ebook and this one doesn't include pages. I am still not sure I like the whole locations business. Anyway, this is taken from the beginning of the second chapter.

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