Dimitrios Kambouris, Getty Images Move out of the way because Beyonce is playing…
- Posted on Aug 31st 2010 2:30PM by Steve Hochman
But check this out: The new album's title song alone runs more than 31 minutes! And the shortest of the seven pieces that total close to two hours of music still pushes nine minutes. Heck, even a King Britt remix of the title track runs longer than 15 minutes.
And what's more, for the first time ever, the album is entirely made up of material written fresh rather than reworkings of Nigeria-released material for the international market.
"None of the albums in the West really captured the full thing," says Ade's longtime manager and the new album's producer, Andy Frankel. (The musician himself was unavailable for interviews, in mourning for his mother, who passed away recently, which came on top of the car-crash deaths of two band members in April, causing the postponement of a planned North America tour.) "But partly because of where he is now in his life and that we were doing this on our own without a record company, we could just go in and do the record we wanted to do. It allowed him to open up and play around and do some long tracks."
Even an excerpt of that title track spells out what's in store with the whole experience, the mix of sparring guitars, the Hawaiian steel that became an Ade juju trademark and, of course, the boisterous talking drums a delight for longtime fans and new arrivals alike:
King Sunny Ade, 'Baba Mo Tunde' (excerpt)
The "where he is" part might also align well with where the audience is. It's been a full decade since Ade last released a studio album of new material, and in that time a lot has changed. A new generation of West African music figures has emerged – literally in the case of Femi and Seun Kuti, two sons of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the only Nigerian musician of comparable stature to Ade, and Vieux Farka Toure, the son of Malian giant Ali Farka Toure – giving their own spins on Afrobeat forms. And there's been a population explosion in recent years of western acts embracing the West African sounds for the funk and jam crowds, from Toubab Krewe to Antibalas. In Nigeria, meanwhile, Frankel notes that juju and other Afrobeat styles fell out of fashion in favor of local variations on hip-hop and soul.
"King Sunny Ade is now really the last star of juju music," he says. "There will always be local bands playing it, like swing bands still tour the US on local circuits. But what he enjoys is unique. Everyone 35 or older, including all the heads of government, grew up with him as the greatest artist anyone could conceive of in their country. There's incredible demand for him to perform at weddings and ceremonies. He's playing more now than five years ago when he tried to slow down."
And that shows in the new music. The sounds on 'Baba Mo Tunde' are as vital as ever, with a couple new twists as Ade approaches his 64th birthday. The King Britt remix, for one, finds a nice balance between honoring the source material and adding the remixer's tasteful stamp. And on several tracks there's a new sound, with keyboard contributions from Seattle avant-jazz tinkler Wayne Horvitz and Hammond master Joe Doria, the latter heard to full effect on the surgingly soulful 'Oro Yi Bale.'
King Sunny Ade, 'Oro Yi Bale' (excerpt)
"He hopes and we all hope the album will give people a new angle to enjoy with him," Frankel says. "It's a bit like [John Coltrane's] 'A Love Supreme.' He's an artist hanging out there doing what he does best in a prime period of his life. Hopefully people will rally to it as an expression of his particular genius. It's not something that is competing with the latest and the greatest. If you like ngoni music and vocals from Mali, this is not your thing. It's his own sort of thing. Certainly, if people like jam music, there's a lot to latch onto. He's never gone way from his commitment to what music is about, spiritual concepts and big ideas, so deeply rooted in his culture that to some extent listeners can't get the whole thing."
But why not? With current technology, whether the Internet or DVD, it would be possible to present at least audio and maybe also video of complete performances, the whole all-night events that remain legend. For that matter, even any official live release would be cherished – no, he's never done one.
"Wanted to do a live recording for a long time, but it's hard to capture good quality live. Most concerts don't sound as good as you like," Frankel says.
As for the videos of complete shows, he says that they have shot the ceremonies and such over the years at the behest (and financial support) of the people hiring them, editing down perhaps to a three-hour presentation. But at this point there are no plans for more, or for public releases.
"The truth is, if you're not the person or family involved, 10 hours is a bit long for anybody," Frankel says.
And Ade is not exactly attuned to the potentials of cyberspace.
"He hasn't gotten very involved in the Internet or had anyone do it for him. We're hoping in coming years he will get more interested. He doesn't spend any time surfing the Web, has no consciousness of what's going on. He's on the terrestrial side of this. I hope that when this record is received, it won't be taken as the latest part of the fray of world-music artists or something but as its own thing, as a milestone from a remarkable artist at the point of his career where he was able to take the time to make a good recording. In past times, he'd record and then go on tour and it would evolve. This time, we were able to do a small tour first and the vibe was good. Should be a lingering memento of what he does rather than a modified marketable piece, a nice slice of King Sunny Ade and his essence."