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Hot Juju!

A review of King Sunny Ade's March 31/05 concert at The Opera House (Toronto)
Reprinted from The African Drum (Music Africa's publication)




Even for 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.

This year, 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? 

While 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.  

It didn't 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 women were great!")

The tour 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 praises.

Shortly 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.

Some simply 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.

Whatever way people enjoyed the show, it was a great night, marking the opening of a hot musical summer season!

Earlier in 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 anytime. Now that would be 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 the show
(Click for larger image)


The dancers

Nadine McNulty, King Sunny, Yinka Farinde after the show