Words by Johnny Fry
As I slouched half asleep and wholly hungover in the back of a cab last Thursday morning – courtesy of frivolous discounts on Bolt that made my journey to university cheaper in a cab than by public transport – I was being slowly uplifted by the hushed music my driver was listening to. It sounded calmingly familiar yet I was certain I’d never heard it before. Fela Kuti? Too obvious. Tony Allen? Too apt after his recent passing. Ebo Taylor? Now I’m just generalising. The driver enlightened me with an in-depth biography of the artist as if he knew him personally. We were listening to the prolific African pop musician King Sunny Adé.
Born into a royal family in Nigeria in 1946, Adé became distracted by music while at University in Lagos. He started playing highlife – a mix of calypso and Ghanaian rhythms – and by 1967 he had his own band, soon becoming one of his country’s top guitarists, complete with signature dance steps. Over a decade later, influential British label Island Records came calling for him, hoping he’d be an ‘Afro-Pop Bob Marley’. His debut for them, the 1982 album ‘Ju Ju Music’ encapsulates and pioneers the sound of Nigerian ‘juju’ music derived from playful traditional percussion. Skittish rhythmic forms ally with uplifting, pacifying vocals, tasteful synthesizer lines and water-weaving guitar riffs. The track titled ‘365 Is My Number’ champions bassline tropes from dub reggae that was being released during the same era from distant lands. Listening to this music elevates one’s day with such little effort. A must for a foggy morning.
‘Ju Ju Music’ along with two other King Sunny Adé albums that followed shortly after, ‘Synchro System’ and ‘Aura’, gave unprecedented exposure of Nigerian sounds to music lovers across the globe. I came a little late to the party, grateful that my cab driver had got stuck in traffic.
Hear ‘Ju Ju Music’ in full here.