POP MUSIC REVIEWS : King Sunny Ade Maintains Fresh, Familiar Groove
King Sunny Ade can take credit not only for introducing a generation of Americans to the Nigerian-bred pop music known as juju , but also for stirring up U.S. interest in African popular music as a whole. In the early ‘80s, his multilayered percussion, embellished with steel and electric guitar and floating vocal harmonies, came together in a groove so seductive that even punk fans couldn’t help but get up and move to its beat.
Ade still has that groove, as his two-hour-plus show on Monday at the Coach House here proved. But while the style and instrumentation of his ensemble have stayed unchanged, his music has evolved with variations that have kept the familiar numbers fresh.
Ade’s 16-piece backing ensemble kept the insistent, up-tempo drive going through the first three numbers, while Ade and the four-man vocal section circled the stage in a roughly choreographed dance. Then a cooler pace was established, one that eventually led into the familiar strains of “Ja Fun Mi.” But unlike the original version, this one moved dreamily, with spontaneous vocal breaks popping up during the chorus.
From there, it was back to more heated grooves speckled with unexpected vocal breaks and flashing patter from talking drums. Though one of the band’s attractions is the salty twang derived from slightly off-key guitars, the ensemble work was executed with tight precision, as both vocal and instrumental sections stopped and started as one.
* King Sunny Ade plays Tuesday at House of Blues, 8430 Sunset Blvd., 9 p.m. $17.50. (213) 650-1451.