Concert Review


King Sunny Ade brought his African Beats to North America for a birthday and stayed to tour. The birthday was organized by twin doctors on the East Coast who decided to fly the band in to party in style. Once they were here the band decided to tour the USA & stopped into the Catalyst in Santa Cruz on Thursday night, April 21. Opening up was Obi Osadebe, son of Prince Stephen Osita Osadebe. This was remarkable as it's the first time that Igbo and Yoruba musicians have toured together, or even shared the same stage -- not only in the USA: this never happens in Nigeria! But that was the only remarkable thing about Osadebe's show because he did not bring a band. He brought a rhythm box and had a trap drummer and two very talented musicians sitting in, Baba Ken Okulolo on bass and a stellar guitarist, Danjuma Adamu, who played with Okulolo years ago and now lives in Santa Cruz where he has his own group called Kosono. Osadebe danced well but his singing wasn't that distinct and overall it was a monotonous hour with occasional moments of joy when the bass or guitar managed to override the rhythm track and break out into some funky riffs. The Duchess was falling asleep, perhaps from the skunk weed the people at the next table were firing up, or from the excessively large meal of huachinango with rice, beans, and home-made tortillas (and a margarita) we'd had beforehand at El Palomar.

During the break we chatted with Jackie Wilson who'd also driven down from Berkeley. I tried to get the Duchess to expound on her "granola theory" as she can detect actual differences between the Berkeley and Santa Cruz types. The dance style, she noted, was more Middle Earth: the Santa Cruzeros being "forest" people as opposed to the "hill" people we encounter in Berkeley. One of the people next to us on the balcony served as a useful example: you know the type -- a grizzled fifty with thick glasses, a beard and ponytail, wearing a pineapple shirt but no deodorant -- and he was dancing in a unique way stopping suddenly in weird poses then hopping to his other foot, making odd exclamations, and "dancing" like he had spilled his karma on the floor and was trying not to trample it.

Sunny Ade came out with his large band and we woke up. There were four talking drum players, in addition to trap drums, congas and an (inaudible) maraca player. Though the three guitars together weren't as effective as Danjuma Adamu, the solo guitarist with Osadebe, the throb of Juju percussion really pushed the show along. King Sunny wore a sparkling turban in lieu of a crown but stood out from the other 14 members of the band who wore dark green print dashikis and merged into the background of dry ice and muted lights (that changed in a thirty second rotation from green to blue to red).

The lead guitar stepped out in the second number and I sensed a Rockabilly influence. The Duchess asked if it was original material because it seemed like rock music and she heard a lot of quotes; before I could answer they brought up the lap steel so I mentioned that Jim Reeves was big in Lagos when Sunny Ade was a youngster. They slowed down to "island time" for "Ja fun mi," the only one of their songs I knew by name. But they still managed to turn raucous in every tune. And they all kept turning up their amps or waving to the sound man that they couldn't hear, so it got progressively louder. The keyboard player did a bad "flute" solo and I noticed he affected a glittery style, lots of bright fills and glissandi. King Sunny had a cordless guitar so was able to dance with the two male backing vocalists & there was a lot of goofy dancing. Their antics seemed to parody Western courtly dancing at one point as they weaved in and out.

After an hour of solid music, the tempo changed and they went into what sounded like a low-down dirty blues, as three large ladies paraded on solemnly in long gold-coloured sheath dresses. Suddenly, though, they were doing the famous African butt-shake and making their fringes fly. The audience went nuts and the dancers got progressively wilder and then involved the back-up singers who tried to keep up and, of course, proved inadequate and collapsed, worn-out. During the next number two elegantly dressed Nigerians got on stage and showered a lot of dollar bills on the King. They stayed to dance while the singers ignored the hippie-chicks who were begging to be hauled onstage from the pit. The last couple of numbers were virtually acapella, though the drums broke in frequently. They were lovely and it was a good way to bring things down. I started thinking it was hard to believe Nigeria was ever a British colony. How did the Brits contain these fierce people and how did they manage to keep such a strongly independent spirit?

Santa Cruz, for all its beachbum-hippie lifestyle, has a lot of police on the streets enforcing noise laws and busting petty hustlers, which makes it eerily clean and pacific. The show ended at 11 because the town has a curfew. We headed for the Patel Motel, quite content.

P.S. Jackie attended the show the next night at the packed Fillmore auditorium and wrote me: "The SF show was a big contrast. First of all, the Obi portion was much smoother and highlife-yer because Soji was the guitarist. The audience had a fairly large contingent of highly duded-out Nigerians from the local Yoruba social group: the ODUDUWA society. Sunny wore a traditional outfit and the music was decidedly less 'funk' and more 'juju.' At the end there was a long period of 'spraying' by the Oduduwa people. Names were given one by one to the people on stage as the fancy-dressed ladies and gents came up to have their names praised, to dance about, and to press money onto Sunny's forehead."

Photo by the Duchess