America had its chance to embrace Nigerian pop music a couple of years ago when the charismatic King Sunny Ade got his big push. But predictions by boosters and record company officials that the bandleader and guitarist would succeed Bob Marley as an international superstar proved overly optimistic, and, while Ade remains a dominant force in Nigeria, he's no longer on an American label.
Now that the hype has died down and the African pop movement in the United States has returned to the specialist audience it had before, Nigerian music's other major figure, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, is making his first American tour.
He and his 16-member band, the Inter-Reformers, filled the Palace with the charged polyrhythms of classic juju music Wednesday night, but didn't show anything that would encourage another Ade-style campaign for an American following.
Obey's lineup, sound and show pretty much followed the blueprint Ade laid down when he came through town. Colorfully garbed musicians--in their robes and headgear, the "talking drums" players looked like bishops in some wild, wiggy church--hammered out extended, rhythm-oriented pieces on an arsenal of drums, percussion instruments and two electric basses. Four guitars and a pedal-steel established melody lines that were often submerged in the pounding tide.