Friday, June 12, 2009

No Country for Black Men?

My passion for country music goes back many years ago, when my father was still alive, when Jim Reeves was all the rage in Kampala, long before i knew the way back home. Now, just a few hours after i saw a Larry King special on country music, i realize that i still haven't grown up: I love country music as much as i did when i first heard "Danny Boy" as the curious son a country fanatic.

As a grown man, my collection features such icons as Kenny Rogers, Rodney Crowell, Sweethearts of the Rodeo and Tim McGraw -- artistes whose music has since been poisoned by funky variants and, even more painful, knocked out by cultural currents on both sides of the Atlantic. The charge that my taste in music is outdated and uncool is probably fair, but the idea that music made in Nashville is crazy is one i am unkindly disposed to.

I've been told that country music has long been associated with the vanity of southern white males, especially those who have little or no interaction with blacks. In that regard, country has subliminally been known as the music of white racists, even if most country songs treat the whole gamut of every-day subjects far removed from the friction between black, white and everything that falls between. As i have discovered, the allegation is long on perception and short on fact; the connection is tenuous, and the oxymoronic equation is akin to some white people pigeonholing hip-hop as the language of tomorrow's criminals. It doesn't fly.

While my music collection has become eclectic in recent times, only country music ever manages to let me "confess like a child." Many country records out there were intended to speak to the unintelligent, but i am lucky to have known country songs that are as spiritual as they are enlightening. Sean Hannity, the FOX News commentator whose views i rarely agree with, said in a recent edition of his daily show that he loved country music because it's "about real people, real ideas." I agreed reluctantly, in large part because he was making a deliberate attempt to link country music to the ideals of the GOP in a virulent examination of the Obama administration. I would feel much better if the claim is made by, say, Colin Powell.

It's true that i am bothered by the constant risk of having to explain how it came to be that a black man from Africa so loves country music. And it's also true that i don't own a pair of cowboy boots or a fedora or tight-fitting jeans. But guess what: I am going to Nashville.


  1. Danny Boy isn't a country song though. It's a traditional Irish ballad. :P
    But I do get what you mean about country music. People always feign surprise when I talk about my love for oldies and classic rock. Folks are amazed that I enjoy listening to cats like Elvis, Jim Reeves, Andy Williams, CCR and such. It seems that just like how it's apparently weird for a black African to like country music, it's odd for a young Malaysian to love the stuff his grandpa listened to...


  2. Fair enough. Well, i was talking about "Danny Boy" a'la Jim Reeves. Several musicians have come up with their own renditions of the ballad. Also, I guess your problem is somewhat similar to mine.

  3. Love this post, Rod! You know, these days we tend to compartmentalize genres of music, but the origins of country-western and the blues are very similar -- the two genres are cousins. Back in the day, there were many black artists who called themselves country singers, and the racial divide across the artistic spectrum was much more ambiguous. It's unfortunate how often we fail to recognize the cross-pollination that happens within art. But most old-time country-western artists and blues artists were very much appreciative of each other's work. Am glad you will be traveling to Nashville. As you know, I have a cousin there whom you can stay with. (I've already informed her that you'll be coming at some point. :) You can get the Afro American-Nashville experience. Hah!

  4. I read this post in amazement imagining that there still young men, at least of your age, that like country music. Back in the day, I loved country music especially when Radio one (Uganda) had a country hit programme every Sunday evening, it was one of those evenings that i always looked forward to. With time however, and due to constant criticism by my friends and at times family, that country music was 'boring' and 'old fashioned' i kind of lost interest.... But believe u me, every time i incidentally listen to any country hit, the fresh memories come back straight way.

    I however don’t quiet get you well when you say, country music was meant for the this your own thinking/opinion? OR, its a fact based on some scientific findings.

    I must admit, country music makes music feel like music, unlike today, its all about the bits and how loud someone shouts. And when u get tempted to listen to the lyrics.....the one sentence/word is repeated all over and over again.....and would I be wrong to call this boring.....?

    Thanks Rodney!