King Sunny Ade - Synchro System
At a time shortly after Island Records had achieved phenomenal success with Bob Marley, they tried to make a star in the west out of another so-called Third World artist, King Sunny Ade. In the end it was not something which worked too well. Nonetheless, it was a bold attempt and worthy of greater success than resulted. Sunny Ade himself went along with the idea, but perhaps without any real enthusiasm. He was a big enough star in Nigeria.
Massive in his native Nigeria, the hope clearly was that he would be able to translate his reputation to commercial success in the UK. It did not quite come off for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the obvious one was that the time for musical experimentation seemed to have passed, at least commercially. Punk and reggae had had their day in the sun. The record companies had reasserted control. Music was, like the proverbial genie, forced back in the box. An innovation such as Nigerian music in the early 1980's aiming for commercial success was not likely to succeed.
In spite of the fact that much modern popular music owes its existence, ultimately, to West African traditional music. At the time this came out in the UK, African music was way way off being understood and was still the preserve of a select few aficionados who lived in Hampstead, sipped cappuccino, ate macrobiotic vegetables and wore kaftans made out of recycled dog hair long before this became more widespread.
The music is melodic, complex and easy to listen to on several different levels. Plus there is a lot of action going on. One look at the cover shows the number of people who were involved, as instrumentalists, in making this album. The major problem that I have with this is that it just does seem to have any purpose. Now I am not saying that all albums should be concept albums, but this one just seems to be a collection of tracks put together from a left over session in the studio.
Another of the drawbacks, when it came to making Sunny Ade a star in the west was that most of the album is sung in Yoruba. Nothing intrinsically wrong in that, but it made a difference. Very few artists who have sung in languages other than English have attained commercial success in the UK so he was really up against it right from the start. Bob Marley, for instance, sang in English and therefore was accessible to the market Island Records were aiming for. This was not the case with Sunny Ade. Whatever he sings about is not going to be related to what the potential audience feels, in the UK, because they cannot understand it. Music, it seems, is not sufficient to gain widespread acceptance when the lyrical content is beyond appreciation.
In other areas, the album is disappointing because it lacks punch though. Pleasant yes, enthralling no. It rolls along without ever really taking off, bringing me back to my point about needing to go somewhere. A lot of the tracks peter out like jam sessions which have outlived their usefulness. Whether that is the point, I don't know. After a while it becomes distracing. I am told other Ade albums are better. I will have to see. But at this point, my appreciation of African music remains limited.
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