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Sunday December 21, 2014
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King Sunny Ade

 

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King Sunny Ade, bandleader and guitarist, born Sunday Adeniyi and a genuine scion of Yoruba royalty, works in the Nigerian style called juju. It's rooted in traditional Yoruba percussion styles, but over the decades since it first developed it has added many layers to that base. The man Nigerians then called the Minister of Enjoyment took the stage with phalanxes of Yoruba talking drums (pitched drums playing patterns that suggest spoken sentences), singers, dancers, and Western melodic instruments, including such novelties as electronic keyboards and even a country-style pedal steel guitar, introduced to West Africa by American oil workers. For three hours--it would have been much longer at a concert in Africa--everything was in musical or physical motion, with the talking drums starting conversations among themselves, the other instruments, and Ade's speedy electric guitar.

Ade was promoted by the Island record label in the 1980s as a successor to the late reggae star Bob Marley, and he is sometimes credited as the originator of the amorphous genre known as worldbeat. Ade's 1980s tours may have been the most popular mounted up to that time by any musicians working in a fundamentally non-Western style. Ade never made concessions to the international music industry; the singing was mostly in the Yoruba language, and the music's Western elements were grafted onto African roots. He never became quite the superstar Island had hoped, but he remained popular in Nigeria and developed a large business empire that led to a new nickname, the Chairman.

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