At a demonstration of yellow vests on the Champs-Elysees
Rozena Crossman

-Essay-

PARIS —The rendez-vous was for last January 21, on the anniversary of Louis XVI's death. A friend had tipped me off that hundreds of French citizens gather each year in Paris to honor their last king and lament their fallen monarchy. Les Royalistes held mass for Louis and Marie-Antoinette, followed by pro-monarchy street protests. I watched as they brandished fire torches along rue de Rivoli, shouted "long live the king!" behind Notre Dame and kneeled at the tombs of the royal family.


But when I look back on my conversations with these avid monarchists, what strikes me now wasn't that their movement was still alive — but how pertinent it is to current events. Part of the reason the Royalists fascinated me is because what is happening back home in my own native land, a younger country that has only ever been a republic. This minority French worldview seemed quaint, archaic and a bit exotic. Yet as I sent in my absentee ballot for the upcoming U.S. election, their arguments kept nagging at me.


One proud Royalist and member of the populist Yellow Vest movement insisted that social harmony was best achieved with an uncontested, continuous form of leadership, by individuals surely trained (and bred?) for the work of politics, law and governance. It beats a system open to those with no political experience bound to wind up pandering to the public every few years to get re-elected. When I scoffed that a single sovereign ruler was a gateway to tyranny, he retorted that despots can crop up just as easily in democracies.

A Pro-Trump patriot march in Minnesota — Photo: Tim Evans/NurPhoto/ZUMA

The last time I exercised my right to vote, the United States elected a leader who had no qualifications for the job, no interest in the public interest and a taste (and skills) for pure demagoguery. It shouldn't surprise us that he is now insinuating that he may not peacefully transfer power. Donald Trump is every Royalist's "Exhibit A" for why democracy is ultimately better in theory than practice.

The Royalist point of view is a useful lens.

I now have real doubts that America can undo the damage Trump has sowed the past four years, both nationally and globally. From abroad, I can report the plummeting respect for the United States — once a bastion of democracy — internationally.


But if I was already worried our democratic institutions were broken, should we question whether democracy itself isn't all it's hyped up to be? Well, in a word: Non.


Trump may be a bad head of state but that's no reason to replace him with a king. Yet I do think the Royalist point of view is a useful lens through which we might measure every democracy. Even after the election, we should continue asking ourselves the questions raised by opponents of the system itself. How can we avoid leaders being so prone to populism? How can we ensure candidates are qualified? How can we protect smooth transitions of power? Maybe if I can convince the Royalists our democracy is worth saving, I'll be able to convince myself, too.

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Society

Oui-Haw! American Country Music Has Global Appeal

Some might ask: Why is there such a thing as International Country Music Day? Turns out the American musical genre has pockets of popularity around the world, from twanging sounds in Japan to South Africa to line dancing in France.

Japanese cover of a Dolly Parton album

PARIS — To the rest of the world, there may be nothing more American than singers with acoustic guitars crooning about beer, trucks and Southern living. But the longstanding genre has had surprising relevance faraway countries. Academic papers have even been penned on why these cultural symbols — so specific to the Yankee experience — have such global appeal.

The examples abound of the traveling power of this popular music genre that blends folk, blues slavery-era spirituals and Southern gospel. One famous story recounts that during his time as a political prisoner, South Africa's Nelson Mandela was allowed to play one song over the loudspeakers. What tune did he pick? The Dolly Parton classic "Jolene," in which the Tennessee icon pleads with another woman not to take her man.

Tokyo Sexwale, a fellow freedom fighter in the cell next to Mandela, told the podcast "Dolly Parton's America" that the choice was somehow perfectly natural: "We are all human beings. The jailed and the jailer. But we all come from one country, but we all don't want to lose. Whether it's a man or your country, nobody wants to be hurt. Don't hurt me."

With this theme of art's ability to transcend geographic boundaries in mind (and to mark International Country Music Day, here's a swinging tour of country music's worldwide influence.

Africa: Classic Country Imports And Kenya's Own Elvis

Nigerian country music singer-songwriter Ogak Jay Oke — Photo: Mgbo
  • Back in 2007, NPR reported about the popularity of country music in Nairobi, Kenya — particularly Dolly Parton and Texan singer-songwriter Kenny Rogers, who received extensive television and radio play. Reporter Gwen Thompkins highlighted how, despite cultural differences, Kenyans found strength and a common ground in songs about agriculture-based economies facing societal and political challenges. As Henry Makhoka, the head of programming at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, told Thompkins: "Most of the country music we play talks about country life, talks about the farm life and so on. That kind of environment was abundantly available where I was born."
  • In fact, country music has been popular in Africa since the 1950s, with local artists across the continent interpreting the genre's musical and thematic elements (see Ivory Coast duo Jess Sah Bi & Peter One and Nigerian country-disco pioneer Emma Ogosi). Many harken back to country music's roots; the banjo was in fact an instrument brought to the Americas by African slaves.
  • Currently, one of the biggest country stars is Elvis Othieno (a.k.a. Sir Elvis), who grew up in a country music-loving household and was inspired by Garth Brooks and Hank Williams. Originally from Kenya, Sir Levis has performed around the world — he started his first country band while living in Norway — and is part of a generation of African country stars that also includes newcomers Esther Konkara and Ogak Jay Oke, who hails from Nigeria.

Asia: A John Denver Classic Hits Home

John Denver in 1975 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is known for its rich depictions of Japanese culture and mythology, so it's somewhat surprising that the 1995 animated film Whisper of the Heart centers around a country song: John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Denver's ode to West Virginia is a unique fit in the coming of age story about the stress of urban life in Tokyo, but Studio Ghibli is far from the first to adapt "Country Roads" to a foreign audience.
  • The song has been covered by over 150 artists (from Olivia Newton-John to Hiwain singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) in at least 19 different languages, from Hindi to Greek to Hebrew, often changing the lyrics to be about the singer's homeland. Researchers in 2009 found that it was the most popular American song among college students in China. (Denver was in fact one of the first American artists to tour modern China in 1985 and his music was played widely on Armed Forces Radio in countries like Philippines, Korea and Vietnam where the U.S. had an important military presence.)
  • This ode to the Appalachian Mountains also has a special meaning for many who came to the U.S. searching for the American Dream. As Jason Jeong wrote in the Atlantic, many Asian-American immigrants see the song as both "an ode to an uncomplicated vision of the United States" and "a melancholic reminder of leaving a place they called home, and everything lost to the promise of a better life."

France: Translating Country Sounds — And Dance Moves

Linedancing in France — Photo: Country-France Facebook page
  • France, a country proud of both its language and cultural output, has a long history of rock stars pillaging country standards, often completely changing the songs' meanings: from American-French singer Joe Dassin changing "City of New Orleans" into "Salut les amoureux" ("Hello Lovers") to "Five Hundred Miles Away From Home" by Bobby Bare somehow becaming Richard Anthony's "J'entends siffler le train" ("I Hear the Train Whistle").
  • Whether it's creative liberty or cross-cultural miscommunication, this trend has been popular since the days of big '60s household names like Johnny Hallyday to Eddy Mitchell to Hugues Aufray. The result usually infuses the French ennui of the "everyday man" into these American classics.
  • Line dancing has also become somewhat of a phenomenon in France, with clubs around the country (especially in more rural areas) featuring dancers who dress the part in cowboy hats and boots. According to weekly news magazine L'Express, some 4 million people — nearly 9% of the French population over 18 — have tried country-style dances.



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