“Yodelers, Guitars, and Accordions”

by

kikuyu

by Elijah Wald:

Classic Kikuyu Music:  Yodelers, Guitars, and Accordions (available from www.elijahwald.com)

This CD combines two extremely varied cassettes of Kikuyu music sold in Nairobi in 1990. The music ranges from the wonderful Jimmie Rodgers yodeling of Sammy Ngako (the only performer I could identify by name) to a cappella choruses and accordion numbers.

Many of the songs show a clear debt to American country and western, in one case even including a fiddle intro. Others are obviously based on traditional local rhythms, and still others reflect combinations of these styles and even a hint of Harry Belafonte-style calypso.

There is both fingerstyle and flatpicked guitar, and while none of the performers are astounding virtuosos, there is a startling variety of approaches to the instrument. As for the accordion, it sometimes suggests a relationship to zydeco, though that is clearly a matter of shared roots rather than direct interaction.

The a cappella pieces sound quite traditional, and include two by a wonderful female singer with responses by a backing chorus. There are also two electric numbers, including one that uses the tune of the old English children’s song “The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night.”

All in all, while the sound is sometimes muddy, it is well worth it for the startling mix of music. Much like American “hillbilly” or country music, this collection reflects a rural population that loved its traditional styles but also sought to blend them with the new sounds arriving on the phonograph and radio, and the breadth of styles reflects the broad tastes of the Kikuyu audience of the time.

 

 

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