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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

King Sunny Adé, "The Best of The Classic Years"

King Sunny Adé
"The Best of The Classic Years"
Shanachie (2003)
1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die

Many African countries have their own variants of Afropop, which (as it sounds) is distinctly African popular music. The Nigerian version is Juju, music incorporating the “talking drum,” a percussive instrument with cords that can be stretched to regulate its pitch (hence the “talking”) as well as electric guitar to lend modern “pop” sensibility to the music. King Sunny Adé is the foremost of the genre’s performers.

Despite the emphasis placed on the talking drums, Adé operated as the guitarist and bandleader. During the “classic years” referenced in the album’s title, Adé had up to 15 people accompanying him as vocalists, guitarists and supplying percussion. As with any form of African music, improvisation is essential, and in a way the drummers are truly talking to each other with their instruments (Juju means "to throw," as in the instrumentalists throw rhythms and lines back and forth).

Historically, the Juju genre came from music played at parties for wealthy benefactors, with the bandleader devising lyrics to praise the host for his payment. I don’t know if Adé’s lyrics are odes or not because I don’t understand the Yoruba language, but it was easy to understand how his band would be perfect for a wedding or other celebration. The first five tracks on the album run together, and it would be near impossible to figure out where one began and the other ended without a firm grasp on the language or keeping an eye on iTunes. In a social situation, a band like this would play for hours, only shifting gears at vocal cues from its leader.

Understanding the number of instrumentalists involved in recording, the producers who operated the session deserve credit for their masterful incorporation of balance. This album is best experienced with speakers spread far apart so the listener can appreciate the back and forth nature of the guitars and drums, and pick up on the “conversation” happening between them.

Adé didn’t invent the genre, but he certainly brought it to international attention (it helps that Island Records looked for him to be the new world music star after Bob Marley’s death.) He would continue to revolutionize it by incorporating synthesizers later (check out the album “Juju Music” for that approach), but this album still makes for a great balance between neo and traditional Nigerian music.

INTERESTING FACT: Adé avearged an output of three albums a year between 1967 and 2007. Yes, that DOES come out to 123 albums of original content. The track "Synchro System" on "The Best of The Classic Years" was actually an entire album by itself when it was released in 1973.

Sunny Ti De by King Sunny Ade on Grooveshark

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