Picks and Pans Review: Juju Music
King Sunny Adé and His African Beats
It is not hard to understand why, in his native Nigeria, Sunny Adé is known as King Sunny Adé and even Chairman King Sunny Adé. He owns the label he records for and the nightclub he performs in. The average set by his 20-piece band lasts four hours. Each of the roughly 40 albums he has made in the last decade has sold at least 200,000 copies in a populous but underdeveloped country. Though a number of native pop styles compete in Nigeria, juju—one of the more tradititional—has lately emerged as the most popular, thanks in large part to the Chairman. "Juju music is essentially party music," he has said, and this first American release backs him up. Intricately layered with electric guitars, steel drums, up-to-the-minute synthesizer washes and a host of African percussion instruments, including variable-pitch talking drums, the music flows like a river of rhythm. It is not an angry river, either. On a burbling bed of rhythm, Adé's gentle music undulates, cool and caressing, something like reggae but with much more going on. One of the things that fascinated Mick Fleetwood and led him to explore African music for his album The Visitor was its communal quality, with every musician playing a small but essentially equal part in creating the densely textured whole. The 20 members of the African Beats epitomize that cooperative, Utopian spirit. The unity and intimacy with which it plays would be remarkable in a band half its size.
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