Of all the music genres in the world, the one you’d least expect to have a following in Nigeria is country music. And while radio shows devoted to country have dwindled since the 1980s, the music still has its fans, even today.
Sometime between folk singer Don McLean popularising the phrase ‘the day the music died’ in 1971’s American Pie and Madonna’s iteration of the song in 2000, country music died on Nigerian radio.
To be sure, the US retains prime position as culture exporter. The world listened when hip-hop ascended to dominance—Nigerian teenagers tied bandannas on their heads in the style of Tupac and threw up American gang signs—and hitherto learned the moonwalk. That fascination with American pop culture continues. To take a recent example, many Nigerians, going by social media updates, mourned Joan Rivers probably as much as Chris Rock. Make it in the US and you’ve made it Nigeria.
That is, unless you are today’s country star.
The Billboard Country Chart from the second week of September lists such names as Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Cole Swindell. Who? What? In the age of the internet and instant music acquisition this disconnection is uncanny.
Peace FM Jos has hosted a 2-hour programme “Best of Country” since 1988.
“People don’t listen to meaningful songs, they listen to meaningful sounds,” Peter Kundum of Cool FM, Abuja tells me.
“It boils down to the quest for urban contemporary music. Nigerians, Africans are beginning to unlink themselves from what America dictates. People are beginning to relate with what we have. The same thing has happened with movies. We are in the jet age, and people want things that move really fast and country music is a little too laid-back. Even Taylor Swift sings pop now.”
He has a point. Taylor Swift, darling of country music, has inched towards pop with every album. Compare Tears on my Guitar or Tim McGraw with We Are Never Getting Back Together (2013) orShake it Off (2014).