Arts Desk

Afropop Thursday and Friday with Occidental and King Sunny Ade

Thursday and Friday offer fun danceable afropop gigs.  Thursday night, the Chicago-based Occidental Brothers Dance Band International will be at DC9 with their meld of classic Ghanaian highlife, Congolese rumba, various other African styles and a bit of jazz, indie-rock, and folk.  While most golden era African bands had more than one guitar and frequently a full horn section, these folks(including 2 Ghanaians) do just fine with one axe-player plus trumpet, sax, bass, and percussion. 

On Friday Nigerian juju legend King Sunny Ade and his African Beats return to town, at the 930 Club.  At home, Ade (pictured above) has released two cds since his fine 2005 appearance at the Lincoln Theatre but here we have only gotten a reissued Seven Degrees North, which was originally released in 2000.

Back in 1988, Ade and his then-26 piece band put on a memorable all-night show at the 930 Club, when it was still the WUST Radio Music Hall.  Now 62 and with an injured shoulder, Ade reportedly does not play as much guitar himself as he used to, but hopefully the other guitarist(s) in his now 16-piece band will compensate. The band will certainly offer plenty of percussion plus spoken and gorgeously trilled call and response Yoruba vocals.  The dynamic juju grooves, with or without Ade’s playing, will be generated largely through strummed and picked stringed instruments drawing from Nigerian, rock, and even Hawaiian and country traditions.  While they've done some short shows on this tour, Ade has noted in interviews that his band and dancers can still go for hours.  We will see what happens Friday.

Thurs. 7-16- Occidental Brothers Dance Band International with the Moderate at DC9 • 1940 9th Street, NW

Friday 7-17 King Sunny Ade and his African Beats at the 930 Club, 815 V St. NW

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  • Tunji Ajayi

    Humm! Even if he does not touch his Guitar at the show, can a leopard change its colour? King Sunny Ade really is a musical icon. A Titan in the world entertainment industry. His merry-jangling rhythms twice held spell-bound the erstwhile US President Bill Clinton alongside his other colleagues on the Nigeria's dance floor for several minutes, showering encore, and reeling encomiums on the entertainment genius. For a single musical ensemble applying almost 5 string instruments simultaneously without running into discordance; dancing their own tunes so profusely while still manipulating their array of instruments without losing tracks or focus, applying kinesics to draw home musical messages etc etc all in a show requires praise and commendations. For KSA, lassitude has no room when he mounts the podium. The music maestro was sometimes ago described as a musical riot on stage by a frontline journalist. He is no doubt an asset to the entertainment world.
    But wait a minute. How could a songster have singularly made so much waves in the world’s entertainment scene for over 40 years, and still be found relevant on the scene till this day? What are the underlying messages in King Sunny Ade’s ever deep philosophical lyrics usually encapsulated in rich proverbs, figures of speech, idiolects, alliteration, assonance, hyperbole, epithets, onomatopoeia? What is the secret behind his dancing arts?
    No doubt millions of his foreign and local fans who are cut in the web of language barriers, but who enjoy his piquant music and soulful instrumentals would wonder aloud “ . . . but what is KSA saying or singing about?” Why and how did his esoteric skills – dancing arts, his idiosyncratic guitar play pattern catch the attention of the world’s renowned personalities like the erstwhile President Obasanjo of Nigeria, Yoshiro Mori of Japan, Bill Clinton of America etc? How did King Sunny Ade succeed in being rated as one of 100 world's greatest Guitarists? What impact does his genre of music have on African musical arts? An author of a newly published book entitled “King Sunny Ade The Legend! . . . cultural communication via a genre of African music” observes that his music has descriptive, predictive and prescriptive values. How so? How did his brand of lyrics develop from mere entertainment products to music for social mobilization? This scholarly book, now in about 25,000 worldwide chain stores and websites offers plausible answers. Get a copy via to know that KSA is truly an African legend. (Tunji Ajayi)

  • Tunji Ajayi

    The impact of King Sunny Ade’s music on the development of African cultural communication

    By Tunji Ajayi

    Musical entertainment is a very important part of socio-cultural lives of the Africans. Every aspect of the lives of Africans is affected by music. They often employ music as they work to the tune and rhythmic beats of music. This they do to expedite physical actions at their energy-sapping work at farms, market places, industries etc. Indeed to mitigate the effect of work burden on their psyches and diffuse work tension, they often shrill, oozing out musical sounds through their lips and teeth.

    Africans enjoy music everywhere even at the church. No church ever garners large congregation of adherents every Sunday without endless rendition of spiritual songs ably accompanied by musical instruments beaming out soulful tunes at high crescendo. Traditional worshippers not only use their esoteric incantatory songs to appease their gods, they also employ it to entertain themselves and their converts. Warring people in Africa have in the past employed war songs to engender spirit of cooperation and unity to fight common enemies. Even at the loss of their loved ones they sing elegies and dirges. All this buttresses the importance of music in social, cultural and spiritual lives of Africans.

    Nigeria, the largest black nation in the world and the largest country in the African continent has distinct music culture. For example, every weekend is seen as a period of respite from work pressure of previous days of the week. This period is usually agog with celebration of birthday parties, baby-naming ceremonies, wedding ceremonies, burial ceremonies, house warming ceremonies etc. Music rendition often plays dominant role in these usually convivial events. Local musicians - each playing his own genre of music - are hired to play live at such colourful ceremonies, where celebrants and well-wishers often dance themselves to stupor, while variety of local foods and drinks are often at the beck and call of attendees.

    While stressing the importance of music in socio-cultural lives of the people, the World Book Encyclopedia states unequivocally that “it forms an important part of many cultural and social activities. People use music to express feelings and ideas. Music also serves to entertain and relax. Like drama and dance, music is a performing art.” Music is also a good means of effective communication. Messages passed across to the receiver through musical patterns are often more potent than mere verbal or written words since messages embedded in such music are easily remembered and thus easily evokes actions.

    Good music has also been found to have good therapeutic effect. The veracity of this claim has been confirmed far back in the bible times. We remember the sick biblical King Saul whose depression defied every other therapy until he listened to good music from the young harpist and songster David before he got cured of a soul devastating depression. Yes, fine music has therapeutic value. Thus William Congreve could not have exaggerated in his Hymn to Harmony, when he said that “music alone with sudden charms can bind the wandering sense, and calm the troubled mind.”

    No doubt one of the greatest musicians that have come out of African continent is King Sunny Ade who has rendered soulful music to the entertainment world ceaselessly in the past 40 years. KSA is perhaps one of the very few artistes on the planet earth who has played music worldwide for so long a period of time and still found useful in the entertainment world till now. The energetic musician is still playing sweet music and honouring all live engagement till today. A careful study of King Sunny Ade’s juju genre of music reveals that it has real African elements which have sustained his musical pattern till now.

    Ade’s, as fondly called in the US and European entertainment market has the knack to embellish his music with core undiluted Yoruba lexicon. It is the tradition of the Yorubas, the largest ethnic tribe in the south western part of Nigeria, to sing in praise of themselves especially to show appreciation for good deeds and to encourage others to embrace acts of goodness. This is also true of most of the 250 different ethnic groups in Nigeria including the Ibos, Hausas, Fulanis, Edos, etc. Hence it is common practice of most musicians to sing in their respective dialects in praise of their subjects. King Sunny Ade goes beyond rendering praise songs, he often lavishly applies cognomen – oriki idile, to sing in praise of his subjects extolling their virtues. Oriki-idile involves making deep research work to know the historical antecedents of a person he sings in praise of. Hardly is there any of Ade’s music album that does not include copious application of oriki idile.

    For example in ASLP 24 - Osupa mi to le which the music star released in 1981, KSA while singing in praise of his subject sings: Omo oba ma je’ya o gbe, omo aje bale ma ba’lu je, ajanaku tii mi gbo kiji-kiji, omo asakasiki aduro dogun. This evidently enables the audience know that the fore-parents of the subjects are of royal origin (i.e. omo oba) who detests cheating and avenges for the oppressed, (ma je ya o gbe) and whose reign brought development to the community (omo a je bale ma ba'lu je). Using the core Yoruba lexis, he lets us into the background of the subject as great fearless warrior in his expression – Omo asakasi aduro d’ogun, which evidently shows that his ancestors never turn lily-livered in the face of war. Sunny often applies metaphor to depict the awesome power or influence of the subject of his songs, e.g. (Ajanaku tii mi igbo kiji). Ajanaku here means the Elephant who we know is very awesome and whose imposing posture makes other animals in the thicket tremble. Hence he does not render his songs in trite or prosaic manner. Most often he applies proverbs to emphasize his points thus making his music legitimately pleasing. Proverbs are words of wisdom often applied by the elderly in Nigeria, most especially by the Yorubas. For example, Sunny sings in Nigeria’s Sounds of the Moment released in 1974, employing the strong proverbs to reinforce his message that honour and fame were showered on him by the benevolent God. He enthused “A kii ru’gba ariwo l’ori, k’ a to l’oruko, a kii w’ewu okiki, ki a to di eni ilu mo. Oluwa oba nii da ni m’ariwo” This literally translates to mean that one does not have to “hawk” fame, or carry it about on ones head before becoming famous neither does someone has to wear a toga of popularity to become well known, because both fame and honour are bestowed by God come at his own appointed time, especially after hard work.

    The Yorubas and Ibos in Nigeria especially rely so much on the potency
    of words usage and their strong proverbs to reel out warnings, settle disputes between warring parties, adjudicate in local magistrate courts, make flowery speeches at ceremonies, console the bereaved etc. Their utterances hardly sound hackney because they do not communicate their thoughts and feelings in trite manners. For example, KSA apparently warning his adversaries in his Album entitled 10th Anniversary released in 1974 sings: Igbin fe f’enu kan iyo, ko s’oogun fun n’ile adahunse. Indeed, it is suicidal for the snail to feed on salt, since the effect is clinical death. Hence, he likens his enemy to be a snail attempting to feed on salt, adding that there is no herbalist that can provide antidotes to revive a snail that feeds on salt. Sunny Ade has a mastery of Yoruba lexis which impacts on virtually all his albums released in the past 40 years. Good music must not only entertain, it must be expressive to evoke atmosphere.

    Indeed, his music has deep philosophical messages for the deep thinkers to ponder upon. The didactic lyrics always have something or some lessons or morals to teach every discerning audience. This explains why the elderly people, the traditional rulers, and the mature people respect and adore him.

    Sunny in his album MDCL-055 Kool Samba which he released in year 2000, employing deep philosophical thoughts, he sings: Oba oke lo’da ekun sodan, ti o fi ti e se igbo, ologinni yan ti e o n ba Oba joko laafin. A truism, which translates to mean that it is the same God that creates the Lion and place her in the bush to live, whereas a mere Cat is domesticated and destined to recline with the King in the palatial palace. This shows that God often showers unmerited favour on His own beloved, not on the basis of status or power. While his lyrics often catch the attention of the elderly ones, his instrumental music has been very attractive to the young music lovers in the past four decades. An avid user of multiple string instruments, including his lead Guitar which he often makes to do his own bidding, humming like the restless bees, and stridulating like the crickets or crying like the hungry wolves.

    Sunny enriches his beat with heavy and multiple percussions whose sound flow at brisk tempo without running into discordance. The Yorubas enjoy dancing to the lead talking drum (iya’lu) which often reels out esoteric messages which can only be understood by the initiated. KSA easily understands every message of his talking drummers, most especially the iya’lu. Thus, leveraging on this skill, he responds with kinetic effect, to the abstruse drum messages with precision, which subsequently explains his unique and bizarre dancing style.

    No single feature article can sufficiently explain the copious artist’s skills in brief. Hence, the book King Sunny Ade the Legend! - cultural communication via a genre of African music which was recently published, espouses among others, the impact of juju music on African culture. Visit to read more on this subject.

    Tunji Ajayi, a scholar, journalist, and music analyst is the author of King Sunny Ade The Legend! – cultural communication via a genre of African music. He writes from Nigeria..

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