In the village of Kapkatet, Kenya in the early 1950’s, members of the Kipsigi tribe somehow came across a few 78 records of Jimmie Rodgers’ Blue Yodels. Convinced that such strange sounds could not come from a human, the voice was attributed to a centaur-like spirit they called Chemirocha. This half-man half-antelope is honored in fertility rites where young Kipsigi maidens dance seductively to the Jimmie Rodgers records, begging him to join them in a leaping dance in hopes that Chemirocha will jump completely out of his clothes.
The Kipsigi villagers also sing various songs to celebrate Chemirocha. One of the only recorded instances of these hymns is this gorgeous, haunting version played on a pentatonic wishbone lyre and accompanied by a pair of Kipsigis girls.
Earlier this year, during a live performance on East Village Radio in New York, Icelandic musician Kría Brekkan covered this Chemirocha hymn in a way that only adds to the sacred mystery of the original.
Video of Brekkan’s preformance:
The story of “Chemirocha” reminds us that the raw power of music will never be cordoned by national borders or language barriers.