KSA @ 70: Ariya As Catharsis – By Louis Odion, FNGE

King Sunny Ade

The reports few days ago that the acclaimed
torch-bearer of Ariya culture chose a foreign soil – the United States – to
commence his grand entry into the septuagenarian club must be troubling indeed
for cultural sentinels back home. How ironic that the platinum milestone of the
king of African beats, connoisseur of the good times, falls in a lean season
that has imposed austerity harshly on the entire citizenry!

True, economic recession is presently biting hard.
But let no one blame the foregoing aberration on the economic crunch. Lest
there be a tumult from the denizens of the high society. However depleted the
saucer filled with baby toiletries and ointment becomes, they say, it never
gets to the point where a nursing mother completely lacks what to rub on her

Louis Odion

Really, still stretching far ahead is the road to
September 22, the birthday of Sunday Adeniyi, the undisputed monarch of juju
music. But to his cult following in jollity forever occupying the forecourt of
the juju music factory, the Ariya is obviously already jump-started in its full
sybaritic splendor. In the coming days, the town will definitely shake as they
toast the man who has come to embody a popular genre in Yoruba music in the
last half century.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

That KSA would on the eve of his 70th birthday be
on a road show in faraway North America (his last outing there being more than
eight years ago) could not be in search of his next meal ticket. It is
certainly borne out of an enduring passion for his vocation.

True, he only inherited juju as an art form. But
the identities of all the forerunners in history now seem totally eclipsed on
account of the immensity of his redefinition of that inheritance and the
prodigious stamina he has demonstrated since then.

As his muse attained full maturity in the early
80s, he succeeded in welding western synthetic pop sound with African talking
drums and electric guitar to birth a dense rhythm. Thus, he was able to reach a
global audience, earning a Grammy nomination with “Odu” later in
1998. Other than Fela, no other Nigerian musician was as globally acclaimed at
that time.

Born in the artistically inspiring Osogbo in 1947,
KSA served his apprenticeship in the early 60s under the tutelage of Moses
Olaiya who would later rest his Federal Rhythms Dandies band to diversify into
full-time comedy and soon become a household name as “Baba Sala”.

It is a testimony to raw talent, sheer industry
and unshakeable faith that KSA eventually outgrew such humble circumstances to
become bigger than his tutor. For those who might be wondering the source of
the dazzling athleticism he brings to dance on stage, he revealed that the now
fallen highlife wizard of Kennery fame, Orlando Owoh, taught him boxing.

In retrospect, beside Ebenezer Obey (his long-time
competitor), no other practitioner could be said to have spoken with so much
eloquence and broad appeal for the juju brand. Whereas Obey calls his Miliki,
KSA’s is Ariya.

Sir Shina Peters

As a sub-culture, Ariya captures the feel-good
urban spirit of the Yoruba society. It is the distinctly louder, uninhibited
version of Miliki propounded by Ebenezer Obey, the meditative darling of the
aristocratic caste. Ariya and Miliki (corruption of milk) are taken as the
social benefit of labour. He/she who has toiled hard is deserving of a moment
of merriment, they say. With a rhythm defined by heavy percussion, the feet
KSA’s Ariya lures to the dance-floor belong to the less inhibited among the
jolly crowd.

If in doubt, you only need to embark on a tour of
neighborhoods of the average Yoruba town during the weekend at normal times. So
much that some sociologists and anthropologists have mischievously gone ahead
to list the Ariya culture among the chief incentives for the relative peace and
tranquility prevalent in Yorubaland even when other sections of the country
appear to totter under social or sectarian eruptions. Those eagerly counting
down to the next Owambe date are less likely to be easily recruited into a mission
to disrupt the social order.

At the national level, such mindset is thought to
also account for the lack of stamina for a sustained struggle and the general
absence of will to endure pain with a view to changing the social
disequilibrium. Ariya offers an escape; it plies the citizenry with opium
against harsh realities. Once the people start counting the number of Ariya
opportunities already lost, they soon begin to defect from the barricade, one
after the other.

Fela already identified this character flaw in his
“Sorrow, Tears & Blood” released in 1973: “I no wan die,
papa dey for house, mama dey for house, I wan enjoy, I no wan go.”

Indeed, one of KSA’s earliest hits exuberantly
declares “Ariya has no end, Ariya is unlimited”. Tired of
“Shokoyokoto” (Fresh Fish), he next offered “Sweet Banana”
while assessing “My Destiny” only to be pricked by
“Conscience” (Eri Okan) to discover the “The Good Shepherd”
and so decided to exult “Merciful God”. Perhaps the one single album
that truly defined and established his authority as a national legend was
“Let Them Say” in 1986. It is a bold statement of the art form
balancing danceable sounds with enduring messages.

Later in the 80s, he chose to tickle the nation’s
imaginations by openly engaging Onyeka Onwenu of the “One Love” fame
in a musical romance. That sired “Wait For Me”.

Ebenezer Obey

But to say the KSA magic is regionalized in the
South-West would be doing grave injustice to his enigma. His audience is indeed
national and by far broader than his ancient Miliki rival. The secret partly
lies in the cross appeal of his beat. And he carries all the credentials that
fully define musicianship: composer, singer, master guitarist, consummate
dancer and producer.

His pioneering vision also led the industry into
creating video for the audio. To bring life to songs, he began the
experimentation in mid-80s by dramatizing new songs in short movie. It was
instant commercial success. Expectedly, others began to copy him. Many
consumers would thereafter not mind paying a little more for the video CD as
value addition. Today, musical video has become a vibrant sub-sector in the
industry with young lads like Clarence Peters infusing more creativity with
cutting-edge technology.

Indeed, while the older generations reminisce on
KSA’s exploits in the past decades, their hearts must be aching at the relative
emptiness of the so-called stars of today. Unlike musicians of old who honed
their skills diligently, priding themselves on being able to play at least a
few instruments and tended to treasure their artistic expression more than
monetary compensation, today’s creatures are mostly computer-generated stars
obsessed with materialism. They hardly feel limited if all there is to their
talent is merely chanting on a sound conjured synthetically to make music
defined more by vulgarities and profanities.

The shallowness of the typical hip-hop act of
today is easily verifiable if, for instance, invited to a concert alongside his
counterpart from the “old school”. The former will likely fret at any
suggestion to perform with a live band, lest his inadequacies are exposed.
Rather, he/she prefers to mime a medley of songs pre-recorded on the CD,
possibly further embellished with the razzmatazz by the disc-jockey on the
band-stand. Unlike the latter who forever craves opportunity to show off his
craftsmanship and will painstakingly build the sound from the scratch by
syncopating one instrument after the other until the crescendo. Not surprising,
he ends up lasting longer on stage.

Bob Marley

Ironically, the new artiste rakes in more cash for
less exertion. Feeding off a new national culture that glorifies shadow over
substance, he/she somehow still manages to command higher fees than the far
more industrious older colleague.

With Obey’s later absence of more than a decade
and lately occasional showing, it has therefore been KSA’s remit over the years
to defend juju’s flanks against the merciless encroachment by new-generation
hip-hop. It has not been an easy task, though. First, it took more than grit
and sheer adaptation to survive the scare of Sir Shina Peter’s Afro Juju
explosion in the twilight of the 80s.

With the release of Ace in 1990 followed with
Shinamania in 1991, juju’s old orthodoxy of message over beat was shattered
into smithereens. A master guitarist of no less virtuosity, SSP’s novelty of
non-stop dancehall beat literally set the entire nation dancing. As revelers
bayed for more, it became clear that the old king needed to urgently reinvent
himself lest his crown and jewel be swept away by the raging tornado.

With the runaway success of Ace and Shinamania, a
horde of SSP’s clones soon appeared. Enter Dayo Kujore, Dele Taiwo et al.

In his fight-back entitled “Authority”,
KSA could not but join the bullet-speed train, relying heavily on synthetic
studio garnishments to achieve a fast-tempo beat. The old game-master was at
his combative best, freely deploying innuendos against the “restless
pretender to the throne unwilling to pay the customary dues.”

Stanza after stanza, lyric by lyric, he let it be
known point-blank he would not surrender the throne yet, famously declaring
“Pounded yam is greater than yam tuber”. And to traducers already
checking their wrist-watches, KSA’s follow-up song defiantly screamed “E
ma fi enu retirement pe Sunny Ade mo” (Stop calling for Sunny Ade’s

True to the bookmaker’s prophecy, the Afro Juju
craze soon fizzled out. With that, KSA might have survived the stiffest
challenge to his stool as juju monarch, but it obviously left him with deep
scars. In subsequent offerings, he would seem to have given up on hunting for
new audience. With a voice increasingly enfeebled by age, his recorded music
soon began to showcase more of a dexterity on instruments, apparently only now
desirous of keeping his old fans base. However, the appeal of his live concert
remains undiminished. The magnetism of his live performance continues to draw
forcefully, even from a distance.

Overall, a critique of KSA’s catalogue is
incomplete without recalling his dabbling in political commentary at some
point. In a 25-minute epic The Way Forward (I & II) released in 1996, KSA
would rally a galaxy of musical stars cutting across generations and
ethnic/genre divides. When publicists began to hype the title ahead of its
official presentation, many naturally shifted in their seats, apprehensive
about the message at a time the nation had descended into funereal silence
under Abacha’s bloody despotism. The expectation of something earth-shaking
however turned out to be forlorn.

Caught at similar crossroads eighteen years
earlier in Jamaica, Bob Marley chose to act differently. His Caribbean homeland
had been devastated by political storms involving the Jamaican Labour Party
(JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP). The reggae icon resolved to stage
One Love Peace Concert in Kingston in April 1978. Drawing a record 32,000
capacity crowd including the sitting Prime Minister of PNP and the opposition
leader on the D.Day, the hitherto gasping nation literally stopped breathing
when Marley, with his hit track Jammin’ playing, invited leaders of both JLP
and PNP, Edward Seaga and Prime Minister Michael Manley respectively, to the
stage. Symbolically, the trio held up their hands to signify reconciliation. At
the end of that historic night, the Jamaican nation left the concert reunited.
Such was the depth of Marley’s intervention.

But beyond the fast dancehall beat, the
KSA-inspired peace song of 1996 offered nothing fresh, other than a rehash of
the usual folksy appeal for communal unity. No mention was made of the legion
of political captives languishing in the gulag then. At best, it could be
described as an artistic statement without depth.

Perhaps, we should have known that KSA is neither
revolutionary Bob Marley nor caustic Fela. The poor outing of 1996 will however
not diminish the weight of his legacy. Indeed, new kings will be born tomorrow.
But it will certainly another generation to see one as domineering as KSA.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here