• July 22, 2019

The KSA Memoir: Secret things I did to revolutionalize Juju Music + How IK Dairo, Bobby Benson, Fela, James Brown taught me

KSA, Abioro & African Songs Ltd Management 

It
is difficult, if not impossible, to attribute the evolution of my music to just
one factor. At best, I would ascribe it to intuition.  I started by aping I.K. Dairo, but craved my
own identity. The identity search began with the introduction of the second
guitar in the 1960s. 

I introduced the
second guitar in 1969, but it was Dele Ojo who introduced the bass
guitar.  Even though he claimed to have
introduced the second guitar, my records are there.  I later introduced electrified talking drum,
pedal steel drum, key boards, drum sticks and several other things.  I tested the acceptability of my innovations
at my weekly shows by first announcing to my fans that I would be introducing a
new instrument.

I
would suddenly stop playing and ask if they heard the instrument.  I also asked them if they thought it was good
or bad.  They showed their acceptance by
surging to the dance floor.  Sometimes,
they clapped and requested me to play only the new instrument.  For example, when I wanted to introduce the
pedal steel, I bought one from Bobby Benson.  The only thing I knew about it then was that
it was a musical instrument, but vowed to learn how to play it and introduce
it.  For two months, it was in my house
and I took time to master it.
KSA….Chief
Bolarinwa Abioro and his men couldn’t stomach our little success away
from London and they just dumped us and went away’
After
about six months, Ademola Adepoju, whom I had never met, came to me and said he
could play it.  He told me he owned one
which was built from a guitar.  But mine
was a professional pedal steel.  Bobby
Benson
had it, but nobody knew how to play and I bought it because it was an
instrument that had not been used before in Nigeria.  I had only seen it in musicals, especially in
Don
Williams’
show.

“The arrangement of
speakers also changed when I introduced smaller speakers atop long metal poles
so that people in a large party would hear the music clearly.  It was always above the level of everyone
sitting or standing.  By the time others
copied it, I changed it to a column of speakers.  Fela
had some before I started using them.  He
brought them overseas.  Initially, I
thought I was the one who brought them in until I visited the shrine one day
and I saw Fela’s column of speakers”.

I
asked Adepoju to come over to my place to play.  He was amazed by what he saw and confessed
that it was different from the one he had. 
We introduced the instrument at a show at the Yaba College of Technology.  By the time we started playing it; people
were amazed and started asking what it was. 
That was the same way I introduced the keyboard.  From I.K. Dairo’s music, I borrowed bass
drum (akuba) and four-cornered samba to add melody to the drum.  I also changed my way of playing the guitar,
leaving the guitar to play accordion, talking drum, and then back to the
guitar.  In those days, we played the
guitar sitting down, putting our legs on a chair to play the accordion and your
feet down to play the talking drums.  But
I decided to add the keyboard, which can also produce sounds similar to
accordion.  Next came the multiple guitars
and the rhythm guitar.
My
reason for doing this was because if I had one guitar and any of its strings
got broken, no guitar sounds would be heard until the string was changed. The
idea to introduce multiple guitar came from James Brown’s
music in the 70’s when he sang “Hey, hey,
I feel alright”.
  I was impressed by
the way the tenor kept moving the music and I decided to introduce it to take
care of broken guitar strings. It was for that reason that I hired Bob
Ohiri
, who once played with Fela. When he started playing,
people thought I took it from Fela rather than James
Brown
.  But that is pardonable
because when Ohiri first arrived, he found it difficult adapting to Juju
beat.  We had to devise a way of bringing
him back into the rhythm each time he strayed too far into Afrobeat mode.
KSA & his band at Trafalgar Square, London, 1971
My Juju ambition…
My
ambition was to make Juju a global music brand, just like
reggae.  To this end, I brought in a lot
of other musical influences and trends. 
I had to electrify the drums in order to blend it with other instruments
so that everything would move on at the same time.  Before then, many instruments were played
outside the microphone range, forcing musicians to take the instruments close
to the microphone for fans to hear the sounds being played.  From Haruna Ishola’s talking drummer, Kasimu
Adio
, usually had smaller units of talking drums.  Sometimes, he played those ones and added new
rhythm to the music.
Our new Scientific
Percussion…
We
had enough manpower and instead of leaving the main talking drums and those
smaller units with one person, I decided that they should be distributed to
others so the sounds could come out simultaneously.  Even from less classifiable and non-mainstream
traditional music, I picked some ideas. 
Prominent among these was agogo (gongs), which was very
popular in Ekiti music and especially favored by masquerade followers in Ado-Ekiti.  I used multiple agogo.  This was followed by multiple microphones to
improve the level of melody.
KSA with his boss-friend-foe Bolarinwa Abioro in London, 1971
How I missed FESTAC
77
Prior
to that, the predominant trend was a single microphone, forcing members to take
turns at it.  With each microphone, each
singer could be distinctly heard by the audience.  The arrangement of speakers also changed when
I introduced smaller speakers atop long metal poles so that people in a large
party would hear the music clearly.  It
was always above the level of everyone sitting or standing.  By the time others copied it, I changed it to
a column of speakers.  Fela
had some before I started using them.  He
brought them overseas.  Initially, I
thought I was the one who brought them in until I visited the shrine one day
and I saw Fela’s column of speakers. 
Again I changed to multiple arrangement in 1977 with real PA
systems.  I got some experts to come to
Nigeria to set them up for me for my performance during FESTAC.  Unfortunately, the letter inviting me to
perform did not reach me until three days after the event. That was how I could
neither play during FESTAC nor use the instruments I specifically brought in
for the purpose.
Luckily
for me, during FESTAC, I played in one place which had a lot of
foreigners.  That was where I recorded “Welcome,
welcome,
Ladies
and
Gentlemen!  You are welcome to Nigeria”.
  It was very much appreciated and thereafter,
I took it to London for mixing.  The record boosted my profile, perhaps more
than if I had played during FESTAC.  In
1978, I brought in the wireless microphone and guitar.  When Peter Tosh, U-Roy
and others came to Nigeria, they were
looking for Simmons drums and wireless microphone which they could not
get until Oba Funsho Adeolu (then an actor), asked them to see me.
Up
till now, I look out for new things I could introduce into my music to add
flavor.  Two years ago, we introduced a
new stage arrangement.  My next plan is
to have a mobile stage and canopy.  I
also introduced the 60KVA generating set to take care of power outage and sabotage
that could result if people do not want that party to go on.  These innovations, however, did not change
the texture of my music.  After all, I.K.
Dairo
introduced electric guitar, accordion, Edmundo amplifiers and Rex
Low
microphones – all foreign instruments, and his music did not become
foreign.
Why I sacked my French
boss…
My
music remained Juju.  As a matter of
fact, it was the attempt to westernize my music that made me terminate the
contract I had with Island Records, my first foreign label.  The contract, which we signed in 1983, was
preceded by a meeting between me and a Frenchman named Martins Messioner.  He said Island Records wanted to sign
African bands.  He came and listened to
my archives and was impressed. He brought a document and we signed.  He left with some of my music and returned to
say we would record immediately here in Nigeria.  He later changed the venue of the recording
to Togo.  We recorded Juju Music, taking
materials from some of the old albums and adding them to the new ones.  The album had about eight tracks and featured
all the instruments I introduced to Juju music because I had told him I
wanted it that way.  When he played the
album to the journalists in London,
they demanded to know more about the artiste. 
I was invited to London and I
told them that if they wanted to see the band, they had to organize a show or
defer my appearance in London until
when I would have a summer tour.
I
also wanted to know who was going to foot the bill for the concert. They agreed
to stump up the cash for the concert. 
Now on our own side, we decided to work out a plan to give an impressive
show that would impress the British
audience and the media because journalists were particularly eager to see us
play to know if the hype that already existed was justifiable.  We decided that we must invite Nigerians to
the show.  Luckily, we were invited to
play for five minutes on a television programme, after which I was
interviewed.  One of the questions asked
was where I would play in London. I told them that it was at the Leicester Square.  Amazingly, before the interview ended, the
presenter informed us that their telephone lines had been jammed becaused
everybody wanted to talk to me.  The
presenter wanted to know if that was a sign of my popularity.  I said I would not know, but I asked them to
inform the public of the venue of the show.


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The
London King’s Show…
Prior to the announcement, they had sold only 170 tickets.  By the time the interview ended, they had
2000 more buyers.  The capacity of the
venue was a little over 2000.  But on the
day of the show, over 5000 stood outside, unable to get in.  They had to call the police to control the
crowd, which was multinational in composition. 
The police started announcing on the megaphone that the crowd outside
should go back home because the concert was sold out.  But they still waited, probably thinking that
we were scheduled for a double show. 
Even if we were to do a double show, the people inside would have to go
out first before the crowd outside could get in.  However, those inside refused to go out,
saying they were prepared to pay for a second show.  A second show, which was not on our original
schedule, had to be slated for the next day. 
Even while behind the stage, I got information that the hall was already
full, as it was the previous day.  The
show had to start 15 minutes before schedule.
KSA, Abioro & African Songs Ltd Management 
We did our best and the media saw the large crowd which went
wild over our performance, as they surged beyond the relationship area to touch
us.  It was an emotional scene. The next
day, papers came out with captions like ‘King of Kings’, accompanies by
pictures of a wildly jubilant crowd. The success of the show convinced us that
we were in business.  The public also
wanted more shows, but we could not oblige because we needed to go back home
because of the time limit.  From that
moment, every promoter wanted to be part of it and we were then lined up for
shows in other countries.
The contract with Island Records was a short-term deal
because I did not want more than that at 
that point, as I had already established my own labels – Sunny
Alade Records
, Atom Pack Records and Sigma
Disc.
I didn’t want to be on anybody’s lable for too long.  It was when they were ready to sign a
five-year deal that they wanted me to load my music with foreign musical
influences.  However, it was a fruitful
union as I got two Grammy nominations while with them. The first was  for Synchro System in 1984. The other
was for Odu in 1999.
KSA….A Philosopher-King
Before the success of the show facilitated by Island
Records
, we had provoked similar reactions in Dakar, Senegal, where we represented Nigeria at an International Expo in 1973. 
We were scheduled to stay for four days. 
The first night was the command performance and aside from my band,
there were many other big bands from across Africa.  But inside the hall, each band had only 30
minutes to play. There were about 10 bands schedules to perform that night,
including the group that represented Africa
at the German International Expo.  About
six bands played before us in a setting that appeared like a circle, with the
audience on a gallery.  When it was our
turn, I remembered Bobby Benson’s advice that we must play
standing and i told my band.  But I
thought it may not work because we were not used to the arrangement.  I later convinced myself that even if it
failed, the fact would be hidden from our fans in Nigeria.
KSA….A star foretold
But it worked like magic, beginning with our appearance on
the stage.  We started with the music of Christopher
Oyesghiku
and built up the tempo of the music. By the time I came in
with my guitar and led the vocals, the crowd was throbbing  with excitement.  Before we realised what was happening, we had
spent 40 minutes as the audience jumped on the stage to dance until they had to
stop us.  We repeated it the next day at
the stadium and on the third, on our own stand. 
We decided to adopt the style on our return.  That was how I became the first juju
musician to perform on his feet.
But this attracted criticisms, as many acused me of turning
into a sort of James Brown.  I kept on
doing it and it soon caught on.  I did
not consider the criticism unfair because the public was only used to highlife
musicians standing up at shows.  Of
course, it was because  they could not
comfortably play the trumpet or saxophone on their butts.  Juju, Sakara and Apala
musicians all played sitting.  The drummers,
naturally stood.  In 1971, Uncle Bobby
Benson
came to my show at K Club and asked why I always sat
when playing.  He said he wanted to see
me dance.  I told him I always did on my
seat.
He explained that nobody would see my feet because it would
have been shielded by the amplifier. He asked if I was lame.  I had to explain that I met people playing
this way and would not want to go against the norm.  ‘Well,
we want to see you dance to your music’
, he persisted.  I told him that I would come over to
demonstrate it to him at home.  Two years
later in Senegal, I put his advice to use and blazed the trail among Juju
musicians.
KSA….His crisis in Manchester left an indelible pain in his heart till date
While I am afraid of sounding immodest, I am not scared of
pointing to my many contributions to Juju music.  This, however, do not include taking the
music outside Nigeria as many seem to
believe. The world had been introduced to Juju music even before I became a
musician.  It had even been
accepted.  This happened throught the
efforts of Ayinde Bakare, Ambrose Campbell, Tunde
Nightingale
and I.K. Dairo.  If Juju lacked acceptability, I.K
Dairo
would not have been made a member of the British Empire (MBE).
KSA; The New Sensation of the 70s
By the time I started, there were already many exchange
programmes to benefit from.  During
summers, various associations of Nigerians in London usually invited us to play for them.  America
did not catch the bug as quickly, largely because it was farther. People like Baba
Olatunji
went there, but never returned.  But playing for white audiences did not quite
take off untill Fela and I emerged. The first time I took my band to Britain in 1971, with the help of African
Songs Limited
, we played in London,
Liverpool, Manchester and other cities. 
The band actually paid its way to Britain
and we were almost stranded.  We returned
to Britain in 1972, also visited Germany and a few other countries.  Three years later, we played in the US. 
Afterwards we started touring Britain
and the US regularly. It was in 1982
that I embarked on a world tour.
 (Excerpts from the book; KSA: My Life, My Music by King
Sunny Ade
. Read ‘How I met and fell
in love with Chief Bolarinwa Abioro’
tomorrow on this blog
)
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One Comment

  • You are doing great Gbenga

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