Monday, April 19, 2010

I'd Love to Turn You On #7: King Sunny Ade - Juju Music

Welcome to Twist & Shout’s “I’d Love To Turn You On” a fortnightly column by our deeply knowledgeable staff of hardcore collectors and music lovers who want to spend some time turning you on to some of their favorite releases of yore; titles that may have slipped out of the public favor, or perhaps never quite found the audience they deserve. Dig in to some terrific musical esoterica and enjoy the sounds.

"...the rhythm is basically simple and, once you hook it up, it flows endlessly."

So says King Sunny Ade in the liner notes and the music herein bears it out - 20 players working toward one goal of creating a melodic, tightly interwoven music that manages to marry traditional Africa with the modern West, to feel earthbound and look up and out toward some psychedelic space at the same time. Does it sound like too much to put on one record's shoulders? For proof listen to the lead track "Ja Funmi," just over 7 minutes of absolute perfection, in which Sunny Ade and his African Beats bring their Nigerian dance music up north to meet English label owner Chris Blackwell and French producer Martin Meissonnier to have them help sharpen up the hooks without losing the rhythmic sleekness. Together they create a music that's at once calming and exciting, both soothing and crazy in its density, and like nothing you've ever heard before - unless you've listened to Sunny Ade, that is. And dig in further to hear Ade's sharp guitar leads trading off with Demala Adepoju's Hawaiian-sounding steel guitar (especially on "Ma Jaiye Oni") and the synthesizers and keyboards played by both Ade and Meissonnier providing some of the most unique sounds you've ever heard on any record anywhere - check the way the drums and synths interact on the otherworldly "Sunny Ti De Ariya" for the best example.
This record is the result of Blackwell's search for a new star to fill the shoes on his label that were left vacant when global superstar Bob Marley passed away in 1981. He wanted someone whose music was accessible enough to cross over in the West, someone who was already an established star in their homeland, and King Sunny Ade, who'd been performing music professionally since he was a teenager and running his own record label since the early 1970's, fit the bill perfectly. Ade made two more records for Blackwell's label - the great Synchro System and Aura, both now sadly out of print and both well worth snapping up when you find them - before he parted ways with the label and in some ways this first effort is their best, culling through the band's recent catalog and sharpening up the tunes for consumption outside of Africa without losing their edge or sacrificing an iota of Ade's musical integrity. I can't think of a synthesis of Africa and Europe more successful than this record. From here, continue to explore outward because in my experience, you simply can't go wrong with anything in King Sunny Ade's catalog. Sadly, King Sunny Ade and his African Beats were scheduled to play next Friday, April 30th at the Boulder Theater but have been forced to cancel their North American tour due to circumstances arising from the death of two band members late last month in an auto accident. When the group finds themselves able to come to the States again, I strongly suggest that you make the show. You won't regret it.
-- Patrick

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