In Summary
  • Last year, he toured the country doing over 10 huge concerts, with several corporate brands jumping on board as partners or sponsors.
  • Despite performing renditions of country music for over a decade, Sir Elvis has only one single under his sleeve, “Loving Man”, released last year.

We are going through a coronavirus pandemic, and we also have classical-jazz, but country music, in Kenya? Many are not quite sure, if you ask around.

But there is one man in the capital city with a distinct, deep, gravelly voice, Elvis Otieno. He likes it more when you refer to him as Sir Elvis, his stage name.

If, by any chance, you get to hear Sir Elvis open his voice pipes to sing without having seen him before, you might mistake him for legendary Jim Reeves or Kenny Rodgers.

His eloquence and accent is something else that cannot go unnoticed.

Born on the shores of Lake Victoria, Sir Elvis and his family relocated to Norway when he was seven and returned home a decade later, which explains the lilt.

Sir Elvis, who was born in 1977, the same year the famous American singer Elvis Presley died, breaths oomph to country music in Kenya, a genre as popular in the United States as rhumba is here, perhaps.

He picked his stage name Sir Elvis to idolise the legendary singer as well as to honour his late parents.

PACESETTER

His late father named him after the icon. His deceased mother, too, was a great fan of Presley.

The 43-year-old, the most successful country musician the country has ever seen, tells the Saturday Nation that he has been performing the genre in Kenya for the past 15 years.

“I have been in the Kenyan music industry for around 15 years now, but I was operating pretty much in the shadows of the industry. At first I was shy about it. I just wanted to go out (in a club), play a song, and sneak back home. But the idea changed when I noticed I would make money out of it,” Sir Elvis says.

At that point, he decided to popularise the genre. There was no country music industry.

So he had to build one all by himself, which is now waiting to explode after years of patience.

“When I started out, country music was an exclusive genre for old folks with money, the Kiambu folks mostly. When I got into the market, I decided to take it to the younger generation. Right now there are about five much younger country musicians than I am, doing pretty well,” Sir Elvis adds.

Despite noting the financial opportunities that music would open him up to, Sir Elvis was hesitant to venture into it full-time.

At the time, he had a day job and a young family of two daughters to provide for. He worked as an aeronautical engineer in Nairobi. He loved his engineering career as as much as he did his music.

WORTHY RISK

As such, he opted to stay at work but in the evenings, armed with his guitar, he would visit clubs in the city and request sessions where he would do his thing.

By 2011, he started visiting nightclubs that would most likely have younger revellers.

The mixed reception he received whenever he played kept him going, and it was only a matter of time before he won over the younger souls.

“Right now, if you check my crowd demographic or age bracket, you will realise that we came from the 60s and 70s and we are now down to the 20s. Nowadays, people who come frequently to my shows are in their 20s, 30s and 40s,” he says.

After balancing the two careers for four years, saving enough to sustain him for the unforeseen future, in 2007, Sir Elvis took a leap of faith and handed in his resignation letter.

“I finally took a calculated risk and quit engineering. At the time, the paycheck from the music side was starting to get a little better than the job. That hastened my decision to leave and follow my passion,” he notes.

Having taken the decision to quit his daytime job, Sir Elvis was not going to jump too far but rather focus on taking it one step at a time.

MENTOR

He did not understand the music market in Kenya, and mostly country music, so he had to learn all the tricks by himself.

“It was a new market, nobody had been there before in Kenya, and as a pioneer, I had to study my surroundings to know where to go.”

To begin with, he went back to the basics, performing at nightclubs as a one-man guitarist, but this time for much longer hours than before.

This is the period he got to meet popular mugithi singer Mike Rua and a bond was established to date. Sir Elvis credits Mike Rua for helping him break into the Kenyan market.

Having already established himself as an undisputed entertainer who hardly misses show bookings, he played a pivotal role in pushing Sir Elvis a step further.

“Many people don’t know this - for the longest time I curtain-raised Mike Rua’s performances. As our bond grew, I started getting several referrals because of him. He helped popularise country music as well,” he goes on.

BREAKTHROUGH

As the genre grew in leaps and bounds, attracting more shows and even much bigger from nightclub gigs to concerts, Sir Elvis also expanded from a one-man performer to a band.

Last year, he toured the country doing over 10 huge concerts, with several corporate brands jumping on board as partners or sponsors.

He also won 2019 Best Male Vocalist of the Year at the Texas Sound International Country Music Awards in the United States.

One disappointing fact, however, is that, despite performing renditions of country music for over a decade, Sir Elvis has only one single under his sleeve, “Loving Man”, released last year.

“I have not been an intense songwriter. I guess maybe the lack of inspiration of it, but I am trying to get out of it,” he explains.