Know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em. Kenny Rogers. The Gambler. I must have heard it a hundred times in Rwanda. In restaurants. In cars. Over dirt roads. I remember pulling into the airport parking lot, and we were all belting it out one last time. They’ll be time enough for countin’, when the dealin’s done.
It didn’t make sense to me. Rwandans love this song. But then this morning I heard a story on NPR. About how Kenny Rogers. And The Gambler. Are hugely popular in Kenya. Along with tunes by Dolly Parton. Like Coat of Many Colors.
And the story helped me to understand. Why 1970s-80s country ballads. With iconic characters. Like The Gambler. Are popular in East Africa. If you think about it, agriculture-based African societies can relate to songs about farm life. And people living in very poor circumstances, can understand a song about a coat sewn from rags.
My coat of many colors
That my momma made for me
Made only from rags
But I wore it so proudly
Although we had no money
I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me.
It you're interested in listening to the story Country Music in a Far Country, it's here. And, in a case of great minds thinking alike, the photojournalist who was in the car, headed to the airport at the same time, blogged about the same thing here.