King Sunny Ade and his African Beats: Synchro System (Mango)

APPROACHING SUNNY ADE’S juju music from a Western pop perspective is difficult, because his creative objective is a smooth flow with nothing much happening in terms or dramatic, emotional peaks.

Several people at the Nigerian bandleader/guitarist’s triumphant February concert here mentioned feeling “spaced out” by the music’s relentless rhythmic thrust, and that’s probably the best entry point to Ade’s music.

It is fundamentally a rhythm trip, but these African beats full and seduce rather than provoke a sweat-drenched dancing frenzy. The rhythmic continuum sweeps you along, leaving your mind free to focus on the music or to drift off into private musings. Wonderful music for free way traffic jams.

Synchro System, Ade’s second American release, captures much of the heady rhythmic force of his live performance. Producer Martin Meissonnier has stripped the sound down to fundamentals with a mix favoring the seven-man percussion section.

The song structures have been simplified without sacrificing the essential thrust of Ade’s music. Most of the songs here recall ‘Ja Funmi’, the most accessible to Western cars of the songs on Ade’s earlier Juju Music LP

If anything. Meissonnier has gone a little overboard on the rhythmic end. Apart from Demola Adepoju’s mournful steel solos, the guitars lie so far back in the mix that the melodies become evanescent sketches behind the pulsating rhythmic tide. Only the title track and ‘Maajo’, with its striking chorus harmonies and biting, funky guitar lacks, stand out as individual compositions.

But divorcing specific songs from the overall context is misleading because the hypnotic force of Ade’s music is derived from its cumulative effect. Synchro System ultimately is a stronger, more focused album than Juju Music, and a better overall introduction to Ade’s music.

It shouldn’t hurt Ade’s chances of becoming a major force in the pop marketplace, but the suspicion grows that records simply can’t do the man’s music justice. The essential introduction to King Sunny Ade remains his live performances He appears at the Greek Theater August 10.

© Don SnowdenLos Angeles Times, 24 July 1983

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