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Olòrun o fun,iwo l’Olòrun fun.
Sunny Ade, you have been gifted by God.
Also if somebody asks and asks, God cannot give him anything.
You have been rewarded by God.
We are in Lagos, or in Ibadan, or in Ilorin, or in any Yoruba city in south western Nigeria. The sun is setting and over the sandy piazza, surrounded by buildings, an Ariya has been set up. It is a traditional wedding celebration, funeral, birthday or baptism. The people sitting on the benches are drinking Guinness or palm wine, eating all sorts of things cooked by the women into those enormous silver aluminium cooking pans. The family was celebrating and dressed up with dresses made of the same material. Close to the stage, where the musicians will play, are tables and sofas for important people, the high class, old people and the business men who are invited for the occasion and who will finance most of the expenses.
Finally the bus with the artists and their instruments arrives. On the sides the name of the band is painted in coloured letters. They are late and someone from the family is protesting to the captain – the leader of the band – who makes up some excuses. In the mean time some young people download the amplifiers and prepare the stage. A little later the music starts and at the corners of the piazza, where the lights fade, people of the area crowd up to enjoy and dance to the music.
The band begins tuning after at least a couple of hours from the beginning of the party and they will keep playing until the morning with the objective of entertaining the guests as much as possible. A juju orchestra is numerous like a family and on stage they can be even 30 people with the percussion players, chorus singers, guitar players, keyboards and young dancers who show their dance moving nervously their round bottoms. Ijoya we say in Yoruba, shake that ass.
Juju music has two main hierarchic major figures: the Patron, who pays the band and supports them economically buying them instruments and amplifiers and the Captain; the leader of the band that is seen like an adventurer captain who leads a real handful of soldiers. The captain is he who manages the relationship with the patron and with the disco productions, who distributes financial resources and who finds agreements to participate to the Ariya, during which he takes care of conducting the troop to glory, giving his orders to the musicians with short guitar arpeggio.
Before the show begins the captain is given a list with the names of the most important guests and some details about them, so that he can praise them while singing, enriching the lyrics with metaphors, stories and proverbs from the tradition. His capacity to master the word will capture the listeners like an enchantment and those who are in the centre of the merry go round of the praises will not be able to avoid giving the band big sums of money, encouraged by the admirers within the public and by the same musicians. For this the popular wisdom tells that if you don’t want to get captured into the collectiveness, it is best to go to an Ariya not dressed up in a sophisticated way but with empty pockets.
At the end of the evening the Captain shares the money according to a rigid hierarchy. A large part of the income is for the patron. Then comes the “Egbòn”,, oldest and most trusted members, and lastly the young people from the band.
During the sixties the juju Yoruba bands would share the musical scene with highlife orchestras lead by Igbo musicians, who would firmly control many night clubs. When in 1967 civil war exploded, the majority of the Igbo withdrew into the eastern Nigerian territories and in Lagos the echoes of highlife were becoming weaker, leaving behind a musical void. In 1970, at the end of the war, thanks to the new important contracts between the Nigerian government and the seven sisters of petrol, the economy of the country exploded. We called it the oil boom. In parallel the disco industry grew and the Nigerian vinyl – not a coincidence that the material derives from oil – not only invaded the streets of Lagos by night but the whole of Africa while thousands of musicians and of bands of all kinds arrived in the Nigerian metropolis to take a chance.
In those years afro beat arrived – product of the "Africanization" of funk – and Fuji music – derived from traditional shapes and very close to the Muslim Yoruba’s. But the void left by highlife – which conserved it’s space to evolve – was occupied by juju music, which from the 50ies onwards was then chosen by the independence movements of the Yoruba society as a flag of the new tradition and of the ethnic pride, essential cultural elements for the fight for independence and enfranchisement from colonialism.
The return to tradition posed the juju adamon drum and the centre, the pressure drum or the talking drum, able to imitate the Yoruba language – which is a tonal language – and to recall proverbs and quotes from the oral tradition. For this the talking drums – called dun dun the lowest bass and gangan the medium – needed to be played by musicians born in specific lineages, where the language of the drum is passed on from father to son. Only this way the drums will be able to talk and let themselves be understood, imitating not only the language tones, but also the vocals and the sonar and mute consonants.
During the 70ies juju orchestras were the most demanded to animate the long lasting music and dances of the Ariya, amongst those the emerging stars like Ebenezer Obey and Sunny Ade, who with his African Beats conquered the title of king of juju music.
Sunday Adeniyi – the real name of King Sunny Ade – was born on 20 September 1946 in the Yoruba city of Ondo, east of Lagos. Son of a Methodist church minister, when very young was already close to the music, thanks to the ceremonies that his father would officiate and accompany with his organ.
Soon, young Sunny started attending also the traditional music sets and starting from the big sensations of those years, Igbo Highlife and Juju, a musical genre born in the 30ies which was also a chop of palm wine music, and associated to the Yoruba Christian community.
Fascinated by the innovators of Juju like I.K. Dairo and Tunde Nightingale, but obstructed by his parents, who did not like that “exaggerated passion”, at 17 Sunny Ade moved to Lagos where he became part of the highlife orchestra of Moses Olaiya called Federal Rhythm Dandies. Three years later, in 1966, Ade created his own group, the High Society Band, which a year later became the basis of his Green Spot Band.
The formation of Green Spot showed that Sunny Ade was chose as patron – Mr. Jide Smith – and promoted to the role of captain. Soon Sunny Ade ended his economical obligations with Mr. Smith and found a new patron, Chief Bolarinwa Abiuro, president of the disco Nigerian African Song label, with whom he recorded in those years some of the records which will build the epoch, and thanks to the continuous reprinting from the African Songs still today we have the pleasure to listen.
Sunny Ade became famous for the quality of his technical equipment and for the modern innovations like the introduction of the electric bass and of a tenor guitar used likely from the afro beat as a support to the talking-drums, and a careful use of electronics and recording technologies. His records were full of guitars with spacey reverberations and the slide guitars that gave sound a tone of modernity without precedents and soon in the collective imagination Ade became the juju musician to whom everyone referred to.
In 1976, Ade enters studio with African Beats – the new name given to the band to avoid controversies on the rights with the cigarettes factories – to record the album it will have a great impact in the whole continent. Syncro System Movement is a interstellar space ship that transports cosmic sounds throughout new galaxies. The recording is perfect, the talking drums go deep without endlessly. The guitars seem really to be coming from another planet, like the voice that with a touch of reverb becomes more dreamy than usual. Soon after that record Sunny Ade moves away from all patrons and sets up his own disco label, the Sunny Alade.
Some years later King Sunny Ade is contacted by Chris Blackwell from Island Records to replace the gone Bob Marley. Who knows who pushed “someone” in the Island to put in place a such “diabolic” plan. Marketing asks African Beats to make sure that the songs don’t last more than 6-7 minutes – this for a juju band is not even enough to find the volume or the tonality for the right groove – and Ade to use a little more English to make the lyrics accessible.
Notwithstanding that into this operation the juju soul itself comes out transfigured, the band managed to produce good records. Juju Music and Synchro System gave the international market consumers an idea of what juju music can be. But with the release of Aura, a dramatic commercial flop, juju music appears for what it really is; a misunderstood cultural phenomena and evidently too distant from the non African senses. Since then Sunny Ade has followed the destiny of many African stars, who had a discrete success home but who remained confined in the traditional society of their country. His disco production split into albums for the local market – which come out at a pace of one or two each year – and the album for the international market – after Aura in 1984, Odu was released in 1998 and Seven Degree North in 2000 – for which some compilation with 70ies material has been published.
After ten years of “international silence”; Seven Degree Nothern, the King returns with an double album full of surprises, produced thanks to the willpower and passion of Andrew Frnakel and to the Indigedisc, label from California founded by him, specialized in producing rare and important pieces on the Nigerian musical scene, also silent for some years reached the point of scaring us. The Indigedisc of Frankel and Baba Mo Tunde production is perfect and charterized by a sort of religious respect not only for music but also the elements within its context. For the first time a Euro-American producer seemed to ask the artists to maintain their style without adapting it to the tastes of the distant listeners. The result is that the songs don’t rush to finish and they take all the time they need, just like an Ariya.
Also the cover notes respect the cultural original context and offer another burst of light. To write them, the professor Wande Abimbola was called, he is the president of the Ifa Heritage Institute of Oyo and also special consultant to Nigerian President for cultural and Yoruba traditional affairs. His essay about the contribution of King Sunny Ade to the language, to poetry and to Yoruba literature brings the attention on what music and musicians can represent still today in the African society, a world so different from ours that it risks confusing us completely also when we simply listen to a record.
But lets move on to music. Baba mo tuned – the title means Father (God), I am back – it is a total of six songs plus a remix. Accompanied by his Africa Beats, Ade opens the CD with “Baba Feran Me” and “Oro Yi Bale” two juju tracks where the colours and the guitars shape over rhythms that seem to wink the eye to Fuji. The first one is a thanksgiving to God, while the second is based on a traditional story. The husband gives his wife some money for a dress, but her lover man gives her more, much more money. With the husbands’ money the woman buys a piece of traditional cloth made in cotton and with the money of her lover she buys some precious silk. When the woman goes all dressed in silk, people are full of admiration for her husband who teats her with so much attention.
The band is made up of 16 elements plus guests. Two guitars, one keyboard, one bass and 12 percussionists and singers. With the help of this group “not so numerous”, but extremely versatile, KSA builds an album as a classic, characterized by his usual oddities. Rock and solos of the Hammond provide some trace – see the example of Baba L’oun S’ohun Gbogbo – tastes that bring us back to memory Stevie Winwood from the Traffic. “In my music you can find everything, not only traditional Yoruba music, but also jazz and rock “ said Ade in a recent interview
The new album is the work of a person who has returned to continue exploring distant from home musical territories, on the juju spaceship, not to remain confined and prisoner of his own legend and his own past, which retraces “Emi Won N’ile yi O” a beautiful dreamy track that moves within the juju-highlife. In the absence of a strong battlefront of guitars and keyboards, the songs have a more acoustic and traditional sound, based mainly on the use of percussions and of talking-drums which find always more space to be able to “talk”. The choir accompanies the leading voice, which maintains a style of relaxing tone and sometimes whispered, without exceeding also when possible. When he sings, King Sunny Ade seems to tune with sweetness an invitation to dance, with the typical grace of this dance. A grace and sweetness that are maintained also when the progressions of the guitars and Hammond become more and more impulsive.
“Baba Mo Tunde”, which opens the second of the two records, is a 31 minutes of real juju which we could define devotional. “I know Father loves me why I dance. I Father loves me that’s why I celebrate … I brought my songs of praise. Thank you, Father”. The track is one of those that leaves a sign, and makes us think of when juju was the music which could do anything, and that the presidents, the generals and business men wanted at their Airyá. The whole album seems to develop around Bama Mo Tunde, the track that is celebrated in the following remix, where DJ King Britt puts hands on the tapes. A hypnotizing remix, which it does not bite and seems to be a message for those who need a translation in order for it to be understood. The album ends with “Eyi Ma Dun to”, a strange and calm song based on the ancient rhythms and lyrics where the afar sound of a flute from the northern sands appear. His title means “This is sweet enough”.
What else to add? Baba Mo Tunde is one of the best international juju productions ever released up to today, a true anthropological cultural documentation, created according to the principle for which Africa is not interested in being easy to digest also for those with a delicate stomach. But Baba Mo Tunde is also a record to enjoy dancing, letting itself go to fierce and also relaxing rhythms of the Yoruba parties and to well tuned speeches from the talking drums. The King is Back!!!
By TP Africa and R. Lycke (Lusofonie)
KING SUNNY ADE DISCOGRAPHY (T. Endo)
1. Emi Wo N'ile yi O
2. Baba L'oun S'ohun Gbogbo
Author: King Sunny Ade
Title: Baba Mo Tunde
1. Baba Feran Mi
2. Oro Yi Bale
3. Emi Wo N'ile yi O
4. Baba L'oun S'ohun Gbogbo
5. Baba Mo Tunde
6. Baba Mo Tunde (King Britt Remix)
7. Eyi Ma Dun To