Artist: King Sunny Adé
Album: Juju Music
Sparsely spread throughout genres and the overall history of music, there are a handful of artists who so thoroughly dominate their particular genre, that nearly every other artist in the genre seems quite pale in comparison. These elite artists perform in their genre with such precision and perfection that, in many ways, their music actually becomes the definition of the genre. Though he was nowhere near the first or the last in the genre of juju music, there are almost no artists who are worthy of even being mentioned in the same breath as King Sunny Adé. Though he has worked with a number of groups, it is his solo records, as well as his albums with The African Beats that stand above the rest of his recordings. Though he did not start releasing formal, full length records until the early 1980's, since that time, he has released a staggering amount of albums, with the current count well over one hundred and twenty records. As is often the case, the first release of an artist represents their finest, and most true to form sound, and this is certainly the case with King Sunny Adé. His 1982 full length debut, Juju Music, lives up to the direct title, and the music found on the album is nothing short of extraordinary.
The term and style "juju" originated in Western Africa (Nigeria) during the early 1900's, and the name is derived from a term for a common form of witchcraft which was prominent in the area. Following World War II, electric instruments, as well as influences from reggae, funk, and other genres began to transform the juju style into the sound that remains to this day. Both the roots of the music, as well as the later influences come through clearly in King Sunny Adé's recordings, and one perfecting mixture of the two is absolutely sensational. While the base of the music is firmly set in the African tradition, Juju Music also features strong moods of Caribbean, Hawaiian, and even sounds and textures that are truly avant in nature. Truth be told, while much of the world praised Paul Simon for his 1980's pop-based songs with a heavy African influence as a new sound, the reality is, you can hear all of the groundwork for these records throughout Juju Music. Regardless of what other styles Adé is incorporating into the music, the one element that runs through them all is the amazing groove that makes the songs a joy to experience time and time again. The chemistry between Adé and his backing band is obvious, and the manner in which they work with one another helps to create a music and mood that is never anything short of stunning.
While an overwhelming majority of African based music centers around speed, volume, and large group chants, the juju style is far more subdued and relaxed. King Sunny Adé's music is truly blissful, and while the music is more mellow in sound, it is not slow or lulling as is the case with most "mellow" music. In fact, the mood on the album is quite the opposite, as the music is so perfectly crafted, that the relaxed vibe, yet more upbeat rhythms and sounds is nothing short of soul rejuvenating. It is this ability to have a laid back mood, yet create irresistible grooves that makes the music on Juju Music so mesmerizing and fantastic. The African Beats, Adé's backing band on Juju Music, is comprised of a number of percussionists, using instruments ranging from clavé and shekere's to more widely known instruments like congas, bongos, and a standard drum kit. There are also a number of yoruba's and other talking style drums found throughout the album. The manner in which all of these percussionists play with one another is breathtaking, as not a beat is off anywhere on the album, and the multi-layred textures are truly amazing to experience. The amazing compositions that Adé created for Juju Music are truly like nothing else ever recorded, and The African Beats perform brilliantly, creating a sound that transcends cultures and musical tastes.
Composing every song on Juju Music, as well as leading the vocals as well as playing guitar and keyboards, King Sunny Adé proves to be one of the most talented musicians that the world has ever heard. His low, soothing voice blends perfectly with the instrumentations, and it adds an amazing element to the overall sound of the songs. Adé's guitar perfectly punctuates the songs, and while it is not the primary focus often, when it is, such as on "Ma Jaiye Oni," the manner in which he navigates the music is nothing short of sensational. This ability to perform stunningly subtle, brilliant guitar pieces is what has made Adé an inspiration for countless guitar players, with one of his most public fans being Phish's Trey Anastasio. The keyboard and sound effects that lace the sounds is equally as amazing, and it is the element that makes the songs sound almost futuristic while being simultaneously traditional. The almost spacy, ethereal sounds that Adé creates on "365 Is My Number/The Message" are truly revolutionary, and it is a sound that remains unparalleled to this day. Whether it is Adé singing solo on the tracks or the group harmonizing, the vocals are always equally as superb as the music, and it adds another amazing layer to the music. Though they are singing in their native tongue, the spirit behind the singing comes through clearly, and this is a testament to the amazing sounds and moods that King Sunny Adé was able to create throughout Juju Music.
The fusion of various musical genres can often be a complete disaster, as it is a very difficult task to do so without having musical chaos. Brilliantly blending together sounds from all around the world with the traditional African style of juju, King Sunny Adé proves to be one of the most talented musicians and composers in the history of music. The fact that he has recorded more than one hundred records in only thirty years clearly shows that he has a musical mind that knows no boundaries and he obviously has a deeper connection to music than nearly all of his contemporaries. Though he remains one of the many "lesser known" influences, one can find traces of his sound all over the past three decades of popular music. His live performances are legendary for their length, energy, and the unparalleled grooves that are created by his band. This energy and ability to form grooves like no other are perfectly captured on his studio albums, and the fact is, one simply cannot find a bad recording anywhere in Adé's massive recorded catalog. By far one of the most talented musicians in history, King Sunny Adé is undoubtedly the King of juju music, and one needs to look no further than his 1982 full length debut, Juju Music, to experience everything that makes him such a phenomenal musician and his music some of the most enjoyable ever recorded.
Standout tracks: "Eje Nlo Gba Ara Mi," "Ma Jaiye Oni," and "365 Is My Number/The Message."