Music Reviews

King Sunny Ade

Synchro Series


King Sunny Ade first really penetrated my consciousness around 1987, when he and his band appeared in the underrated Robert Altman film O.C. and Stiggs. Before and since that time, Ade was one of those artists like, say, Hugh Masekela; you heard a lot about him if you read the music press at all, or if you were lucky enough to have one of those hip, cool friends with a good world music collection. Getting through the armies of American television and radio made it difficult to really hear his music. This was even before Clear Channel had taken over the country and begun the process of beating down dissent.

When you do hear King Sunny Ade, though, the first thing that strikes you is just how pervasive the influence of World music like this was on western pop in the 1980s – and not just via Paul Simon. Heard over 20 years after its original release, the style on this record sounds like early forms of the music we would hear throughout the decade in genres as diverse as: “Alternative” rock/pop, new wave, euro-pop, dance, modern rock and power pop. Of course, that influence cuts both ways; though it’s true that all those “white” genres pilfer from “black” musical vernaculars, it’s not so black-and-white as to say it doesn’t ever go the other way.

Material from the original Synchro Series, from which this collection takes its name, was used for Synchro System, the western album which was supposed to make Ade “the African Bob Marley.” That never quite happened, but Ade remains the king of juju, defined as: “…music played by large ensembles centered around guitar and percussion: several guitarists play interlocking, complex melodies over a thundering wall of rhythm, led by traditional Yoruba talking drums (whose heads can be tightened or loosened while they’re being played, in order to change the drum’s pitch…).” Thank you again, All Music Guide.

Gbe Kini Ohun De, the Nigerian album from which the first half of this material is drawn, is a very open, free record (it ought to be, with song lengths an average of 12 minutes). Not recorded with an ear towards commercial (western) interest, it offers Ade’s celebrated guitar, talking drum and keyboards sound in a cheerful mix. Synchro Series is a little more modern (well, modern for 1983, anyway), but no less whimsical and summery. All the same elements are there, if perhaps a little more show-y.

In O.C. and Stiggs, King Sunny Ade is described by one of the title characters as “god.” I can’t go that far (Mickey Dolenz or Barry Gibb, surely?)… but I can hear the roots of such a conversion here.

Indige Disc:

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