The Best of the Classic Years

King Sunny Ade

album cover

Juju Mojo, at Full Strength

Africa is the motherland of rhythm, and the place where music that speaks of great hardship often winds up sounding blissfully angelic. It's also the world capital for music that unlocks the pelvis. This compilation of material the Nigerian guitarist King Sunny Ade (born Sunday Adeniyi) recorded in his homeland in the early '70s is a shining example of all that. Juju is music of extraordinary liquidity, propelled by precisely pitched talking drums and intertwined electric guitar conversations, sometimes four at once. There are vocals, and Ade's band, which during this period contained up to sixteen instrumentalists and singers, often gathers itself into a church choir. The prayerful themes float over isolated, sometimes hyperactive strands of guitar counterpoint, with rhythmic repetitions that lead, slowly but surely, to illumination.

These songs established Ade and his band, first known as the Green Spot Band and later the African Beats, as preeminent masters of what musicologists consider "classic" juju. They're also the recordings that inspired Island Records founder Chris Blackwell to sign Ade and, using techniques that made Bob Marley a star, launch him as another global icon. Ade never reached that kind of acclaim, but that's hardly his fault: Those later recordings are marred by goopy rock-style production. To experience the careful synchronization that makes juju go, start here. Inside these interlocking rhythms and restless conversations between guitars and drums is music of mesmerizing power.

Genre: World, Nigeria
Released: 2003, Shanachie
Key Tracks: "Synchro System," "Ibanuje mon iwon," "Sunny ti de"
Catalog Choice: Juju Music
Next Stop: Commander Ebenezer Obey: Juju Jubilee
After That: I. K. Dairo: Ashiko
Book Page: 11

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