Kikuyus and their undying love for country music

Gathee wa Njeri and Karis Wa Kinyozi Poa [Photo: Courtesy]

If you walk into any Kikuyu club, one thing that you are bound to hear is Don Williams country hit It Must Be Love in a purring baritone playing in the background.

The patrons, mostly donning cowboy hats will get up to dance, rocking back and forth. Kikuyus love country music just as much as they love nyama choma.

So, what exactly is the connection between country music and the Kikuyu community?

According to music experts, the strong fan base of country music in Kikuyu land is intertwined with the coming of the White settlers during colonial era.

They found home in Central Kenya highlands because of the rich volcanic soil and favourable climate.

Most of the Kikuyus who supplied the labour force on the European farms were in regular contact with them and they quickly learnt the new genre of music that they referred as the ‘music for the rich’.

“Country music is associated with rural folks and if you observe keenly, 90 per cent of people living in urban areas grew up in the village where cow boy hats and boots are very popular. Further, most secular Kikuyu musicians have borrowed heavily from country music,” said Dennis Gathaiya, a popular presenter who hosts Kameme Country.

Gathaiya, The Sherriff, as he is popularly known, says that Kikuyus can easily relate with country music because the message is also reminiscing.

“In my show, I always pick a song that is not common, play it and interpret the storyline in Kikuyu. This is because most people don’t pay attention to the words but after the story has been told in Kikuyu they get interested and that’s why my show has become popular.

“When two people who love country music meet there is an attachment and there is so much that they can talk about. This music is growing rapidly and in 10 years time, the audience, will have grown tremendously and this means the growth of country music is killing a certain genre of music”.

He also notes that most Mugithi musicians from Central Kenya, borrowed country music garb of the Godfather hat, cowboy boots and the leather jacket.

“Look at our local Kikuyu musicians John De’Mathew, Peter Kigia, Musaimo wa Njeri and the late Joseph Kamaru spotted the Godfather hat popularised by country musicians like Don Williams,” he added.

Gathee wa Njeri, a popular one man guitar, says that “Kikuyu audience loves simplicity, this can be related to both country and one man guitar since they mostly involve a guitar, one voice, and simplicity in arrangements of beats and words.”

He adds that “Kikuyus feel like they own the music and it’s in tandem with their culture because country songs have been in existence for a very long time. Kikuyu secular music started with only a guitar and some other few instruments, for example, Wanganangus, mwombokos and mugiyos.

The guitar is symbolic and therefore, simple to play live making it easier to express love and other themes”, the Caitan hit maker said.

Karis Wa Kinyozi Poa, another musician says that Mugithi is a kikuyu version of country music which gives the listeners a deeper understanding of complex issues.

“Not all people understand the rhymes in country music especially those above 50 years but they love country songs.

“Mugithi helps them to understand the words in their native language because they are so much related in terms of storytelling”.

Jacinta Wambui, a country music fan says that her father introduced her to the songs when she was young.

“I love the songs because I grew up listening to that kind of music. My father is a big fan and he still has the old cassettes.

“When I was growing up he would host wazees every weekend to drink Muratina in our home and country songs were played throughout and that’s how I was attached to this country music.  The message in the songs takes you back in your yester years”

Progressively, most clubs in Central Kenya have gone country and the songs are normally blended with Mugithi songs.

Geoffrey Kihiu aka DJ Sizlaa of Nyumbani Sports Bar and Grill which has a weekly gig, opines that the shift to country music by the youth is because Kikuyus are progressive in nature.

“Young Kikuyus have embraced this genre because the message resonates with them as they carry on with their hustles.

“Country songs have become trendy because the message in the song is powerful and captivating. People get attached to something they have experienced in their lives and there is a feeling that the singer is singing about you”.

According to Mwangi Wakahora, Kikuyus love the music because they are poor dancers.

“I think the reason we love this music is because we are lazy and don’t know how to dance. We have only one dancing style and with country music you can just lie down and listen without much movement.”