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NIGHT LIFE

The Man Who Would Not Be King : Sunny Ade was born to a royal family of the Yoruba tribe. But he has made his name writing and performing juju music.

August 04, 1994|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For a democratic country, the United States, at least in the music biz, has sufficient royalty to rival that of pre-World War I Europe.

Elvis, of course, was "The King." There is Dick Dale, "King of the Surf Guitar"; Joe (King) Carrasco & the Crowns, Queen Ida and a former Prince.

While these titles are honorary or mere delusions of grandeur, King Sunny Ade was born to a royal family of the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria. Nonetheless, he is a "call me Sunny" kind of guy, a man who is king only in name.

Ade and his band, the New African Beats, will be mystifying the locals with his juju music Sunday afternoon as part of the "Reggae Jam on the Coast" in Oxnard.

Juju music features enough drums to outdo every phony Hollywood jungle movie ever made, more guitars than a month with Metallica and plenty of singers.

According to Ade's bio sheet, juju can be traced to traditional Yoruba guitar playing and has been influenced by Christian "Aladura" church music, traditional Ashiko styles, the British music halls, Nigerian blues, American country-Western music, and Hawaiian and Cuban pop music. Its most distinguishing sound comes from the famous talking drum, which was added in the 1940s.

"Juju is a type of music composed by my ancestors over 100 years ago," said Ade, who talked by phone from an Oregon hotel.

"Juju music never really changes but we have modified it somewhat by making it a bit more up-tempo. It's party music. When people hear it, they have to dance and enjoy themselves.

"A talking drum is a two-sided drum that can be played with the hands or with sticks. They were used in the old days for communication and people talked through the drums. You know, talking drums is a word made up by white people. We call them dun-dun or gan-gan."

Don't expect to take sensible notes or wait for the Meaning of It All unless you're into exotic tongues: Ade sings in his native language. Despite the obvious communication gap, the feet know what to do with juju music.

"You don't have to understand the language because music does not need words. Music is music. We sing about love, about loving your neighbors. It's not political; it's party music."

If juju music is party music, then Lagos must be party central. There, Ade doesn't have to worry about gigs--he owns his own club, plus his own record label.

"On this tour there's 18 people in the band, but when we're home, there's 52. That's because there are so many instruments. Sometimes they play alone or all together. Oh yes, there is quite a scene in Lagos. There's something happening almost every day. There seems to be a party every day. We just released a live album, plus we have another one coming up in the studio. Up to date, I have over 81 records, both here and in Nigeria."

Ade seems to have the music biz in perspective. He was Africa's first international star, but he doesn't tour endlessly like the blues guys, and certainly is no king of the road.

"We go out for three months and we stay in Nigeria for nine months. On the road, we're all just living like brothers and doing what we do. We all love the music," he said. "Sometimes we miss our families, but we can give them a kiss through the phone.

"We'd like to play South Africa. While the apartheid was in effect, our government didn't allow Nigerians to go there. But now that everybody is free, we've been given the green light by the government. We'd also like to go somewhere like Russia."

Adding the word king to one's resume couldn't hurt, but Ade, the man who would not be king, bucked his parents.

"When I was very young, maybe 7 years old, I fell in love with music," Ade said. "That was 40 or 41 years ago, and I jumped into it. Music was what I loved, so I did it. My parents wanted me to be a king or a doctor or an engineer, but they ended up liking my music."

Seven bands will play Saturday, with seven more slated Sunday. At one time or another, ska, World Beat, Jamaican, even Hawaiian and the one-note-one-beat-one-week rootsy reggae will be featured during this Dreadhead weekend.

Details

* WHAT: "Reggae Jam on the Coast."

* SATURDAY: From 11 a.m.: Azumah, Boom Shaka, The Bonedaddys, The Untouchables, Majek Fashek, Big Mountain, Toots & the Maytals.

* SUNDAY: From 11 a.m.: King Sunny Ade, Lion I's, Common Sense, Wailing Souls, Inner Circle, Wendy Shaw, Ho'Akane.

* WHERE: College Park, 3250 S. Rose Ave., Oxnard.

* HOW MUCH: $20, one-day advance, $22.50 at the gate, $35 both days advance. Camping is $15 per car for two nights, Friday and Saturday.

* FYI: (310) 285-8560.

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