King Sunny Ade holds a special place in world music history, and a special place in KCRW music history as well.
There were trailblazers like Miriam Makeba and Olatunji before King Sunny, back before the genre “world music” was around. It was King Sunny Ade, however—he was actually a prince) who first helped create fans of world music in America and the U.K..
KCRW had an African music show that started in 1980, one of the earliest in America. In 1982 Roger Steffens, host of the popular Sunday show The Reggae Beat, was working for Island Records’ world music label, Mango. Roger was in charge of the first U.S. tour, which arrived in LA in February 1983. The Hollywood Palladium was sold out, 5000 fans coming to hear this new and very different music: talking drums, Hawaiian slide guitar, and joyous, often philosophical songs sung in Yoruba. I think every musician in LA was there, listening to this new, hypnotic music. It was a show like no others before it.
For one thing, talking drums really do talk: it is a fascinating tonal language just like Mandarin. King Sunny once fired his talking drummers for making inappropriate comments about female audience members at a concert in Japan. Sure there was Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who is probably now more famous, even years after his death, but Fela’s music was released by Celluloid Records, which had only spotty distribution here. King Sunny, however, had great distribution and you could buy the debut lp Juju Music at any decent music store.
That first show was truly a KCRW show if there ever was one: We loved the music and featured it constantly. Because of Roger Steffens, we also were given some 50-odd lp’s that were released in Nigeria prior to King Sunny’s first album here. We still have them in the record library.
A chance to hear this joyous, polyrhythmic music is an opportunity not to be missed. You will be dancing the whole time with a smile on your face.