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Accounting for Taste

When we talk about the influence of American performers on African music, we usually think about a few obvious examples, legends like Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix or James Brown. In this episode, we go beyond these stars to explore the legacy of some lesser-known inspirations. We’ll learn how the fluid guitar playing of ’70s rock band Dire Straits became massively popular in the Sahel, influencing Tuareg rockers like Tinariwen and Tamikrest. We’ll hear about the American country superstar Jim Reeves’ African career, and the unlikely story of how the pedal steel made it from Hawaii to Lagos. Finally, we’ll travel to Angola with the help of director Jeremy Xido, to explore that nation’s death metal scene. And along the way, we will try to understand just how to account for taste. Produced by Sam Backer with help from Jesse Brent.

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Pedal Steel Primer 


Uchenna Ikonne on Country Music in Nigeria 

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  • Peter Foster

    Brilliant! I’m a massive Dire Straits fan and I find it fascinating to hear how popular and influential their music has been in the Sahara. I also enjoy the music of Jim Reeves, probably some of the whitest of white music. It’s amazing that this is appreciated in Nigeria. Music is truly an international language. The Anglo/Celtic and African musical styles and traditions that were fused into Country and Blues are shown to have turned full circle in this excellent broadcast.

  • Kathleen Gillogly

    Please, what was that Tamikrest song? I’d love to have links to this music on YouTube or even for where we could buy it.

    • Afropop Worldwide

      The song is called Imanin Bas Zihoun, from Tamikrest’s 2012 album Chatma.

  • Po

    I smiled at the first glimpse of the title. Though I am not from the desert, I am from Dakar, Senegal, which is a transit point for the people of the desert, and also a hub through which the west crisscrosses the continent, and with it, its influence and its products.
    “As a result of increased movement during the ‘80s and ‘90s, a steady stream of guitars and tapes had begun to flow into the desert. ” Indeed! I came of age in that era, and among my crew of teenage friends, one was a dedicated country music fan, another knew everything about Bob Marley, songs and lyrics, others were fans of Zouk, some of Cap Verdian music, and all of us listened to rock music. By rock, I mean the cassette of the Scorpions that one of us came across and which became a communal treasured possession, played everyday for hours. Alongside that Scorpions cassette? Brothers in arms, yes, Dire Straits.
    One of the consequences of being from a third world country is that the west comes to us in one prominent form and expression, often a cassette, a book, a hat, a movie, randomly but markedly. It could be a gift from a foreigner, something bought for a dime at the market, found in the street or sent back by one of the early economic emigrants to the west. And while that memento no longer speaks to the west at that time, it opens a portal for us and gains a new life separate from and unrequiting of the path, message and life it charted originally (best expressed in the documentary Rodriguez.) And that expression, though qualitatively personal, often ends up gaining a communal quality that ritualizes our own local and specifically cultural interactions.
    I guess it differs little from every other group of youth everywhere. The difference perhaps is that the kid in a small Indiana town listening to Mellencamp, hears himself. And the Bronx kids blasting hiphop out of the boombox hears themselves in it. But still, it is still odd that we heard something of ourselves in Dire Straits. And for the same currents cross at the same times, the desert kids heard themselves in Sultan of Swings at the very same time.
    But, here we are, for the vagaries of commerce, one cassette found is way to west Africa, and a bunch of west Africans kids were touched and influenced by it. Some of us made music that sounded like it, others liked music that reminded them of it, and over 2 decades later, when friends here in the US express surprise that I still love Dire Straits and Scorpions, I marvel at it, at the randomness of it all, at the beauty of it all, at the sameness of it all.