Country music finds soul in Kenya

Elvis Otieno

CBS News

Kenya may seem an unlikely place for a hot country music scene, but it's there that one popular local musician is taking cues from some American kings of country, reports CBS News correspondent Major Garrett.

Nairobi, Kenya, a city of nearly 4 million, is 8,000 miles from the Grand Ole Opry, but Elvis Otieno, or Sir Elvis as he's known there, is not an impersonator -- he's as country as Johnny Cash.

"My mom and my dad loved Elvis Presley and so when my mom gave birth to me, that was the year Elvis Presley died. Mysteriously, I became a musician," Otieno said.

Otieno was born in rural Kenya, the son of a preacher.

He said there's a huge audience in Kenya for country music.

"Way back then from 50's and 60's there has always been a country music program on the airwaves on Kenyan soil," Otieno said.

And there still is. "Strings of Country" is a television show that runs three times a week. David Kimotho hosts the show and said country took hold after Kenya freed itself from British colonial rule in 1963.

Kimotho called Sir Elvis a phenomenon.

"The songs sound like the originals. That's why wherever he goes, there's a huge following," Kimotho.

Part of that fanbase are Flash and Serah Mwatha who follow Otieno wherever he performs.

"Me and my wife, we are just crazy about this guy. We love country," Flash said.

"His voice is just amazing," Serah added.

Otieno sometimes shares the stage with Esther Konkara, an up-and-coming Kenyan country singer who styles herself after American country legend Dolly Parton.

"I really love singing her songs. Most people say I sing like her, or she sings like me," Konkara said. "Country has such rich themes, like love, God and country roads."

Those timeless themes, Otieno said, give country music universal appeal and sometimes, set dreams in motion, like leaping from an outdoor stage in Nairobi to a honky-tonk or something bigger in America.

"It is a dream but I always put myself in a spot where if it doesn't happen, I don't think it's going to be a really big story for me. I keep it simple," Otieno said.