The World Beat Goes On
Nigerians refer to him as KSA, perhaps because in his native country, King Sunny Ade is a virtual musical conglomerate, with holdings in oil, mining, music and video.
But to music fans around the world, the Nigerian singer-guitarist-bandleader is a pioneer of world beat--the figure who, nearly two decades ago, brought African juju music into the pop mainstream, one of the pioneers in the interfacing of traditional rhythms and forms with Western instrument and recording technology.
Ade, who performs today at the Playboy Jazz Festival in the Hollywood Bowl, Tuesday at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano and Wednesday at Humphrey’s in San Diego, barely made it out of Nigeria in time to make his California dates (which also include several Bay Area appearances.) With the political situation in Nigeria unstable following the death Monday of dictator Gen. Sani Abacha, Ade was not able to fly to the U.S. with his large ensemble until Thursday afternoon.
Reached by cell phone while in transit, Ade was not sure what to expect from the government of Nigeria’s new military ruler, Gen. Abdusalam Abubakar.
“If we are going to have riots or disorganization in the transition of power, that will affect everything,” Ade said. “If it affects the economy, then it affects every soul in Nigeria, including businesses such as mine.”
Nor is he confident about developments in the immediate future.
“I’m not optimistic, yet,” he said. “You know, I’m not a politician, but I feel for the children, the wife and the other members of Abacha’s family. But also for Nigeria, because when the head of state dies, you feel it throughout the society, whether he has been good or bad.
“I just wish he was alive to see the transition--whether it’s going to be good or bad--so that he could know what he has done right and what he has done wrong,” he said.
Ade made it clear that he prefers, at the moment, to focus on his music. With a new album--"Odu,” his first in several years--just released, and a busy tour to support it, he is happy to be concentrating on music.
And, although he didn’t say so directly, he seems to be aiming with “Odu” at a revival of the popularity he experienced with the success of his highly regarded early-'80s albums.
“Odu” is a Yoruba word with three meanings: a ceramic pot used for storing medicinal herb; a container for storing important cultural items; a slang term for “the latest thing.” The music on the album, a kind of rich survey of Ade’s cross-culture influences, seems intended to express all three definitions.
Interestingly, it was recorded in Maurice, La., at a studio best known for soul and R&B; recordings.
“We felt good in it,” Ade said. “I’m really happy to be one of the first African musicians to record there, because it is the home of America’s traditional music.”
The album was produced in typical Ade fashion--with a great deal of preparation and rehearsal.
“We’d been working on it in Nigeria for almost three weeks before we came to Louisiana,” he explained. “It makes it much easier when you know something, when you know the procedure to make the right music.”
And, because he tends to work with the same players, he has the advantage--as Duke Ellington did--of writing for musicians whom he knows intimately.
“It’s very easy for me,” he said. “First of all, I always look into the eyes of my band members. I tell them, ‘This time I’m going to write a song, and it’s going to be for you.’ And I can do that because the musicians are always with me, and we don’t have to go out and hire session men, and so we’re always all together.
“When I write a song, the keyboardist is there, the singer is there, the guitarists are there. They’re living around me. So I just call and say, ‘OK, we’re going to have a rehearsal tomorrow, I’ve got a new song, and let’s go.’ ”
How does Ade manage to find time to even think about writing new songs, much less rehearsing and recording them? Good question. In addition to KSA, he also is known in Nigeria as “The Chairman"--a tribute to his many business ventures.
He said more than 700 people work for him in one way or another, with 200 employed in his various musical enterprises (which include a record label and a public relations firm).
In addition, he chairs the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria, which is attempting to curb Africa’s widespread record piracy. And he has established the King Sunny Ade Foundation, which includes a performing arts center, a recording studio and housing for young artists.
But business and philanthropic activities are set aside when Ade and his African Beats are on tour. (“I am lucky to have good managers running things,” he said.) Touring with the same musicians who perform on “Odu,” the programs will feature music from the album, as well as past Ade hits.
He is quick to point out, however, that--for the listener--every Ade concert should be a new experience.
“I always tell my fans,” he said, “that my best is yet to come.
“Probably it will come tomorrow,” he added, with a laugh. “But whenever you see me, you should expect more than you saw the last time. I want to remain up there so that people say, ‘OK, I didn’t waste my money when I saw King Sunny Ade last year. And I hope to see him this year, too.’ ”
“So if you come out to hear me,” he said, with another chuckle, “Please wear your dancing shoes to the show. I’ll put you on your feet.”
* King Sunny Ade & His African Beats and Speak play Tuesday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan 8 p.m. $18.50-$20.50. (714) 496-8930.