THERE are few icons of African music who have generated as much acclaim and affection as juju pioneer King Sunny Ade. At 61, the veteran guitarist-singer has earned the nickname "minister of entertainment" at home in Nigeria for creating an irresistible funky groove and message which -- befitting his name -- is positively sunny.
It's also true that his big African Beats band ---- 15-strong on its current tour -- creates such a wonderfully hypnotic feel with its dense, percolating polyrhythms that it is known less for playing tunes and more for stretching out "40-minute jams."
But don't be fooled into thinking that Ade is just about having a good time. From personal experience he is very aware of music's power to create change and inspire calm.
"You must believe that music is what binds the whole world together," Ade asserts. "If you find a place where there is no music you will find everybody living like a ghost. The power of music is so high, it just depends on how you use it. Music is the food of love, as Shakespeare put it."
Ade recalls how only a decade ago Nigeria, a West African nation of 150 million people, was in the throws of rebellion under a military dictatorship.
"I've always felt that it is better to sit down and discuss the issues instead of starting a fight over them. The tensions were so high between the military and the public no one knew what to do, so I called my artists together and composed a song, singing it in the different languages of Nigeria."
The song was a simple call for peace. "I sang that this was our country and that we didn't want their aggression, that we couldn't be killing each other, that they were the head and we are the tail and that the two of us needed each other. We released it and basically gave it away for free. It was played all over radio and television, and everybody cooled down immediately."
All this is not so surprising in a place where music plays a stronger role in everyday life than it commonly does in North America.
For Ade, it began as fun, playing percussion in his hometown of Ondo, and became a career after he went to Nigeria's capital, Lagos in his late teens.
Call him a pioneer and Ade is humble enough to remind you that there were a few others before him, and that the sound known as juju is actually the modern variation on an ancient roots music he inherited from his Yoruba ancestors.
Ade led a movement to reinvent those traditional sounds, by using the new instruments he heard in imported American music to mimic original West African instruments.
With the release of his landmark album Juju Music in 1982, Ade became one of the first stars of world music before that term had common usage.
For his current 25-date tour of North America, Ade says he's trying out new material that the band will record in an American studio during their visit. But he promises a few of his older hits as he continues to spread his enduring message: "Let peace reign on this planet."
-- Canwest News Service
King Sunny Ade
Winnipeg Folk Festival
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