King Sunny Ade's lilting, upbeat sounds introduced Afropop to America audiences in 1982 with Juju Music, a polyrhythmic stew surrounded by synthesizers, warbling steel guitars and sweet vocals. Intertwined like an African basket weave, it was intricate but immediately accessible to an audience a world away.
More than 25 years later, attempts to reach Ade via cellphone, however, present a grander challenge.
After a week of calling, he picks up at 7 a.m. in his native Nigeria upon winding up a 14-hour show that began at 5 p.m. the day before. “We’ve got another one now,” he says. “I'm going to start by 2 o'clock, God knows when I'm going to finish.”
It’s one of his homeland traditions lost in the cultural exchange, but even Nigerians have their threshold. “After 12 hours they tell you to get out,” he laughs. North American fans will have to get by with an abbreviated 40-minute jam during his 25-city summer tour, which kicks off in Atlanta. “Unfortunately, no African musician is big enough yet to dictate to all the American venues exactly how the shows are gonna go down,” says Ade’s manager, Andy Frankel.
Although Ade has recently released several new records in Nigeria, his latest U.S. album is last month’s rerelease of Seven Degrees North. He plans to record a new one in the U.S. later this year.
Also absent from this U.S. tour will be the Nigerian concept of spraying — when audience members come onstage to give the King cash, often by plastering bills to his sweaty forehead. He tried that here in an ’05 tour, but Frankel says the sprayers didn’t show him the proper respect. “People were grabbing him and it was awkward. He didn’t enjoy it.”
Even without being plastered with money, the King will still put out. “I have massive love for every concert,” says Ade, who seems to get as full as fans from the 17-piece ensemble he leads through a deluge of reggae, folk, calypso and jazz-soaked influences. “Enjoy life, go home, and wait for another great show coming up again in another few hours.”
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