King Sunny Ade personifies the sort of destination that motivates the quest of Music Haven impresario and cultural ambassador Mona Golub to explore the world, one concert at a time. Ade plays a free show at Music Haven in Schenectady’s Central Park on Sunday. The king of Nigerian juju music and his nation’s unofficial Minister of Enjoyment — such a grandiose title deserves to be capitalized, official or not — Ade is one of the great international pop stars of all time.
As prolific as he is visionary, Ade has released more than 120 albums since 1967: Amazon lists more than 30, all on American and international labels, and Ade recorded dozens more on a handful of African labels. “Every wish of every musician in the whole world is to get seen,” he said in a 2005 interview. “My ambition is to get my music to every single soul around the world.”
In his quest to get seen, to reach every single soul around the world, Ade had to defend his music against attempts to scuff off its edges, as some in the music business tried to polish his music into the next reggae after Bob Marley’s death in 1981. However, Ade has always followed his own musical path.
“I just feel like everybody has his own time,” he said. “It was a coincidence that when Bob Marley died, I was signed on with the same label.” Ade added, “That doesn’t mean that they want to find somebody like Bob Marley,” although his music has many of the same strengths, in musical mass and meaning, in groove and greatness of aspiration in his messages. “Bob Marley is Bob Marley,” Ade modestly said.
For a review of the King Sunny Ade show, click here.
In the mid-1980s, when a producer played back for Ade some tracks the producer had modified, Ade listened patiently, but he said, “I couldn’t hear my music in it, and I said ‘no’ ” to releasing it. Ade explained that his music, as he writes, arranges it for huge bands and performs it around the world, “is the music I want the whole world to know, to see and to hear.” He said, “It is the music that has been played by my ancestors. How can I change it?”
Over the insistent, clattering drive of a vast, percolating rhythm section — only Fela Kuti, James Brown, Femi Kuti and George Clinton have led bands of comparable scale — Ade sings in a soft voice, mostly in Yoruba, conducting his huge band with his stinging but agile guitar. Ade has always experimented with unusual instrumentation, introducing pedal steel guitar and tenor guitar, synthesizers and clavinets and vibraphone into what began as “high-life” and emerged from his hands as juju. As much a traditionalist as a visionary and a firm believer in the power of the groove to grab anyone, Ade said, “A man plays it and sings and can speak any language of the world, but the music will translate.”
It also proliferates: Few artists are as prolific as Ade. “I am lucky to know how to compose, and my friends give me songs, and the band members, too,” he explained. “The band is like a family and we play every day, so many songs come up and I remember them and write them down.”
He guides the band through songs onstage, by sound and gesture. “I use my guitar to conduct the band, and also my body; but my band members listen to the guitar,” he said. His band collaborates in choosing songs in his show, requesting favorite tunes, but the flow is flexible. “You sing some songs and then you just go on and the songs keep on coming,” he said. As Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio said of seeing Ade perform, “You must be prepared to groove all night.”
Ade said, “With music, I want a dialogue to come from feelings of dancing and the feelings of the music and the feelings of who is next to you in the seats.” He said, “When the music starts, you can just tell everybody around you ‘Let’s dance!’ and respond immediately and that’s the beginning of the dialogue.”
King Sunny Ade performs on Sunday at 7 p.m. at Music Haven in Schenectady’s Central Park. Admission is free.
Club Helsinki (284 Main St., Great Barrington, Mass.) presents the Felice Brothers on Friday and Hudost, and the Bowmans on Saturday, while Willie Nile rocks the Iron Horse (20 Center St., Northampton, Mass.) on Saturday.
The Felice Brothers record in a converted Catskill Mountains chicken coop (including “Yonder Is the Clock,” their latest), but they play the biggest festivals across America now and have been hailed as the next great American band. The Felice Brothers perform on Friday at 9 p.m. Admission is $20. Phone (413) 528-3394 or visit [email protected]
Hudost began as the duo of singer-songwriters Moksha Sommer and Jemal Wade Hines but soon grew into a full band. The Bowmans are identical twin troubadours Sarah and Claire Bowman, rising stars of Americana. Show time is 9 p.m. Admission is $12.
Willie Nile remains an unsung hero of rock ’n’ roll — a tremendously gifted songwriter, a compelling singer and a fantastically engaging performer, with a new album “House of a Thousand Guitars.”
Show time is 7 p.m. Admission is $16 in advance, $19 at the door. Phone (413) 584-0610.