Sunday, March 11, 2012

March 11: King Sunny Adé, "Ma Jaiye Oni"

Artist: King Sunny Adé
Song: "Ma Jaiye Oni"
Album: Juju Music
Year: 1982

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Though one can find them across every style of music, there is no question that even if one is not familiar with that particular sound, the presence of a truly great performer can never be mistaken.  With this in mind, sparsely spread throughout genres and the overall history of music, there are a handful of artists who so thoroughly dominate their particular genre, that nearly every other artist in the style seems quite pale in comparison. These elite artists perform in their genre with such precision and perfection that in many ways, their music actually becomes the definition of the genre itself over time. Though he was nowhere near the first or the last in the genre of “juju” music, there are almost no artists who are worthy of even being mentioned in the same breath as the great King Sunny Adé. Though he has worked with a number of groups, it is his solo records, as well as his albums with The African Beats that stand above the rest of his recordings. While he did not start releasing formal, full-length records until the early 1980's, since that time, he has released a staggering amount of albums, with the current count well over one hundred and twenty records. As is often the case, the first release of an artist represents their finest, and most true to form sound, and this is certainly the case with King Sunny Adé. His 1982 full-length debut, Juju Music, lives up to the direct title, and few songs better highlight his extraordinary talent than the track, "Ma Jaiye Oni."

While an overwhelming majority of African-based music centers around elements like speed, volume, and large group chants, the juju style is far more subdued and relaxed approach to musical creation. King Sunny Adé's music is truly blissful, and while the music is certainly mellower in sound that the more stereotypical “African” music, it is not slow or lulling as is the case with most over "mellow" music. In fact, the mood on the album is quite the opposite, as the music is so perfectly crafted, that the relaxed vibe, yet more upbeat rhythms and sounds is nothing short of soul rejuvenating. It is this ability to have a laid back mood, yet create irresistible grooves that makes the music on Juju Music so mesmerizing and fantastic, to the point that some might simply label the sound as “cool.”  The African Beats, Adé's backing band on Juju Music, is comprised of a number of percussionists, using instruments ranging from clavé and shekere's, to more widely known instruments like congas, bongos, as well as a standard drum kit. Throughout "Ma Jaiye Oni," this group of players creates a completely immersible sound and groove, and it is almost impossible to not get lost in their performances.  The track has a unique sway that is strangely danceable, and time has done nothing but make this overall mood even better.  The manner in which all of these percussionists play with one another is breathtaking, as not a beat is off anywhere on the album, and the multi-layred textures are truly amazing to experience. The amazing compositions that Adé created for Juju Music are truly like nothing else ever recorded, and there is no doubt that "Ma Jaiye Oni" is the highlight of the collection.

Composing every song on Juju Music, as well as leading the vocals and playing guitar and keyboards, King Sunny Adé proves to be one of the most talented musicians that the world has ever heard. His low, soothing voice blends perfectly with the overall textures of the instrumentations, and it adds an amazing element to the overall flow and feel of "Ma Jaiye Oni."  Along with his superb voice, Adé's guitar perfectly punctuates the songs, and while it is not the primary focus often, when it is, such as on "Ma Jaiye Oni," the manner in which he navigates the music is nothing short of sensational. This ability to perform stunningly subtle, brilliant guitar pieces is what has made Adé an inspiration for countless guitar players, with one of his most public fans being Phish's Trey Anastasio. The keyboard and sound effects that lace the sounds is equally as amazing, and it is the element that makes this song sound almost futuristic while being simultaneously traditional. The almost spacy, ethereal sound that Adé creates on "Ma Jaiye Oni" is truly revolutionary, and it is a sound that remains unparalleled to this day. Whether it is Adé the actual tone of his voice, or the mood that he sets with his sound, the vocals are always equally as superb as the music, and it adds another amazing layer to the music. Though he is singing in his native tongue, the spirit behind the lyrics comes through clearly, and this is a testament to the amazing sounds and moods that King Sunny Adé was able to create throughout Juju Music.

While one can see throughout history that the fusion of various musical genres can often be a complete disaster, as it is a very difficult task to do so without having musical chaos, when one succeeds in such a question, the results are rarely anything short of stunning. Brilliantly blending together sounds from all around the world with the traditional African style of juju, King Sunny Adé proves to be one of the most talented musicians and composers in the history of music. The fact that he has recorded more than one hundred records in only thirty years clearly shows that he has a musical mind that knows no boundaries, and he obviously has a deeper connection to music than nearly all of his contemporaries. Though he remains one of the many "lesser known" influences, one can find traces of his sound all over the past three decades of popular music. His live performances are legendary for their length, energy, and the unparalleled grooves that are created by his band. This energy and ability to form grooves like no other are perfectly captured on his studio albums, and the fact is, one simply cannot find a bad recording anywhere in Adé's massive recorded catalog. By far one of the most talented musicians in history, King Sunny Adé is undoubtedly the King of juju music, and one needs to look no further than his extraordinary 1982 full length debut, Juju Music, to experience everything that makes him such a phenomenal musician and his music some of the most enjoyable ever recorded, and there are few tracks that better represent his brilliance than "Ma Jaiye Oni."

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