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Thursday, May 8, 2003

Review - Synchro Series

Artist: King Sunny Ade

Posted on Thu, May 8, 2003 at 4:00 AM

Juju music -- that lighter, more fluid style of Nigerian funk -- should have been as popular as reggae. The two musics share a breezy style, an infectious tempo Ã?and are underscored by political angst. Island Records thought the same thing and, accordingly, signed up juju superstar King Sunny Adé in an attempt to fill the shoes left empty by the passing of Bob Marley. Adé had already firmly established himself in Nigeria with a consistent stream of impressive releases (sometimes as many as four per year) and his engaging personality and barnstorming live performances more or less ensured his success. Of course, it turned out to be "less" rather than "more," and after three commercial flops on Island, Adé returned to the Nigerian music scene changed. The two albums collected on this fabulous reissue do well to illustrate how much of a difference a worldwide contract can make to a localized star. "Gbe Kini Ohun De" was released immediately before the singer took off to record his Island debut. "Synchro Series" came out nearly a year later, after Adé had run the PR treadmill and promotional tour circuit in hopes of helping Island make his debut album a success. The three tracks that represent the earlier album bristle with the loose, collective energy that juju music is known for: long, organic jams, built around gelatinous guitar lines and groove-oriented percussion. The "Synchro Series" tracks (primarily the 15-minute "Synchro Series" medley) are clumsy, "Western-ized" remixes that are, to say the least, cheesy. "Ja Fun Mi Dub" is a reggae-style instrumental reworking that maintains some of the energy Adé is known for. But all told, the stylistic meltdown of the later tracks are indicative of what can go horribly wrong when "ethnic" artists attempt to mutate their sounds to please Western audiences. Eventually, Adé returned to doing what he does best, and his more recent work has been some of his best. To be clear, the majority of this CD is excellent, it's just that when it does get bad, it gets "really" bad.

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