King Sunny Adé & His African Beats, Maa Jo
Once more, a Nigerian release from juju potentate King Sunny Adé: Maa Jo. Those long familiar with Adé’s music doubtless will recognize a couple of the songs in its lineup, being the title track and “Penkele;” both of these appeared in re-recorded versions on Adé’s second Island Records release, Synchro System, with neither of the latter being nearly so enjoyable as the renditions heard here. Maa Jo and Synchro System were issued in 1982 and 1983, respectively. (As before, thanks and praise most high for the scholarship of that most estimable Mr. Endo!) Following the wonderful Juju Music, where engineer Paul “Groucho” Smykle integrated Jamaican dub mixing techniques alongside Adé’s phalanx of talking drums and electric guitars, Synchro System seemed faintly disappointing, its contents an assembly of fragments that never managed to coalesce. It should be noted, however, that Synchro System still outshone the lion’s share of other releases from the darkening years of the early '80s.
Maa Jo shares good qualities with others among Adé’s Nigerian output, as have been and have yet to be featured on No Condition Is Permanent: prominent roles for vibraphone and marimba, before synthesizers took their place; minimal compression; seriously non sequitur guitar flourishes and solos of quixotic appeal; once more, Demola Adepoju’s pedal steel guitar; the organic miasma of a West African recording facility preserved within the record’s microgrooves, as is happiness in near-palpable quantity. Let’s hear from D.H. Lawrence: “Work can be fun and men can enjoy it.” His words describe, better than any number of mine could, the sound of the African Beats rocking in the deeply non-air-conditioned studios of Decca West Africa (for the dripping wet proof, see the Konkombe installment of director Jeremy Marre's Beats of the Heart documentary series). No subtext, this; Maa Jo’s performances are infused with sweat and contagious enthusiasm in equal measure. I believe it was also Lawrence who said, “I can tell it’s spring, there is estrogen in the air.” There you go, news and the weather, too, from the pen of a transcendental hedonist. When I post the Lijadu Sisters in the near future, I’ll be reminding you of that one.
Wait…there's more. Witness, if you will, a quote from the Maa Jo liner notes, credited to Alma & Co. Promotion, Ibadan:
Chart-buster “MAA JO” lends itself to a dancing forum where even a lame man would never resist temptation to tap his feet in response to the high-calorie effects of the album’s percussive up-tempo vibes.
I didn’t make that up. I do appreciate the sentiment, though, especially the high-calorie bit.
Next up is Ajoo, the second volume of King Sunny Adé’s Nigerian alternatives to Synchro System, and so very fine in its own right, a 1962 Studebaker Hawk Gran Turismo coupe among juju albums. Please stay tuned.