those who don't hate cold temperatures, winter is usually a pretty bleak
season for African music fans. Summertime -- when frequent touring acts pass
through town, when Harbourfront is packed every weekend, and of course when
Afrofest fills Queen’s Park for two days in July -- seems like a distant
dream. While there are occasional highlights, like Music Africa’s ROM night
(and frequent shows this winter by Slim, Donne and Adam), there’s not enough
to chase away the chills. Last year’s "musical winter" ended in April with
concerts by Baaba Maal and Orchestra Baobab.
winter seemed to drag on and on, and March had been one of the coldest in
decades. However, a lot of us looked forward to the end of the month not
merely to flip the calendar, but because March 31st marked the first time in
too many years that "Chairman" King Sunny Ade played in Toronto. What better
way to raise the temperature than some hot Juju music?
standing outside The Opera House waiting for the doors to open, one woman
shivered in the cold. She dressed lightly she said, because she knew it was
going to get hot inside. And shortly after 8 pm, the African Beats started
wandering onto the stage. The drummer sat behind his kit, flanked by two
talking drum players; soon fifteen musicians and singers filled the stage --
including the band's distinctive pedal steel guitar. King Sunny took centre
stage, still looking great after more than forty years of playing and
singing, flashing his distinctive warm smile.
take long before the band blew winter away. Any remaining traces disappeared
completely when the three women dancers came on to really shake things up!
(Said one concert-goer after the show, "The men were really good, but the
had been promoted as an opportunity for concert-goers to participate in
"spraying" -- the West African tradition where audience members spray the
musician with money by handing it to him, tucking it in his clothes, or
sticking it on his forehead. In return, the musicians sing the donor's
after the band came back for their second set of the night, people started
heading up on stage. They first came one or two at a time, but before long
the stage seemed half full of audience members. While a few came just to
dance, most came to spray.
reached over and stuffed a $20 or $50 bill into King Sunny's turban; others
wanted the full treatment. One woman came armed with a hefty handful of US
$1 bills, and handed them to King Sunny one by one by one, making sure to
take long breaks so she could enjoy listening to him sing her praises.
way people enjoyed the show, it was a great night, marking the opening of a
hot musical summer season!
the month, King Sunny had phoned CIUT’s Karibuni show, and gave a live
interview to Nadine McNulty and Michael Stohr. To thank him, after the
concert Nadine presented him with a Music Africa T-shirt and two past issues
of the African Drum. She told him about Afrofest -- the largest
African music festival in North America -- and invited him to play there
hot -- King Sunny and band closing out a full day of Afrofest in front of a
packed Queen’s Park audience! Let's hope.
(As I write
this, two days after King Sunny's show, winter has tried to sneak back into
town. However, although the forecasts had predicted up to 15 cm of snow to
fall overnight, fortunately King Sunny and the African Beats had raised the
temperature enough Thursday night that the it was still warm enough a day
later that the snow turned to rain).
Some photos from
(Click for larger image)
Nadine McNulty, King Sunny, Yinka
Farinde after the show