Let us go then, you and I—you, dear reader and I, into the vast discography of Juju music’s most accomplished practitioner, King Sunny Ade, for the auspicious event of fishing out his love songs.
Juju music, that variant of palmwine highlife music popular in South-west Nigeria, evolved from a griot tradition, local percussion and a blues that is an earnest reflection on the vicissitudes of life.
The music has got its historical anchor in Kokoro, that blind minstrel who beat the hell out of a hexagonal tambourine drum in the 20s to Ayinde Bakare whose innovation was the electric guitar in the 50s, to Tunde King whose industry and sophistication was what earned Juju its onomatopoeic name.
You cannot ignore the Ijesha man, Baba Aladura, Isaiah Kehinde Dairo, under whose watch the music acquired its modernity, or his progenies, Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade, who brought Juju music to its peak of popularity and a mainstream audience in the 70s.
The year is 2019. The day is February 14. Valentine’s day. And a self-proclaimed music critic has taken it upon himself to write about Juju love songs.
Juju music at its most modern was music for the elite when they hosted their peers at societal events, hence juju musicians were known to be decorous from their earliest iterations.
Even then, Juju music was best known for praise—praise of God, the divine, praise of the musician’s prowess as either a song writer or guitar strummer and praise of their patrons.
Praise of love or lovers was not a usual occurrence. Check I.K Dairo’s illustrious career and discography and you will find only a handful of love songs. “Taxi Driver” brings to mind the Bobby Benson song but released in the 60s, it was definitely a nod or obeisance—the song title is a distraction because the journey to his virtuous love with white teeth and diastema was more important than the eponymous chaffeur.
Of course, there was “Sumbo”, “Caroline” and the ever-youthful and jaunty “Salome”. There is also “Darling I Love You” which professes love and promises kisses in stuttering English.
Ebenezer Obey’s early classic “Paulina” remains one of the most under-appreciated love songs ever written.
It is mellow, mild, windy and references the Marina. A song about a chance meeting and a predestined affection—this song is both prayer and promise to the eponymous Paulina, a future mother of the singer’s unborn children.
And now, we shall go, you and I, into the vast discography of King Sunny Ade, the most prolific juju musician of all time, which is disappointingly lean on love songs.
First we must visit his short, if not inconsequential song “Wa Wo Yan” off his 1972 album, which speaks to ogling. An unabashed remake of a church hymnal, Sunny Ade sings rather passionately about the fawn breasts of married women arduously doing laundry.
The rest of that decade is quiet about affection of any kind except for the divine being or the crisp currency notes of his many patrons.
His 1980 album, “Searching for Love”, is brazenly about love. Having recently discovered the Hawaiian guitar, King Sunny Ade recruits its twang and wail for a sprawling love song that stretches its polyphonic odyssey into an endless trek in search of a love.
The delight of the song lies in its earnestness, the search is being undertaken with a prescient sense of discovery. And so the song becomes more about the musical journey than the fervent search itself—Sunny Ade reminding you at every instance of his love and his longing as the song disappears into a void that mars your mind with a need to put the song on repeat.
“Synchro System” is no love song but that unforgivable groove was made for a mating dance of sorts. Its sputter and shuffle was designed to lead you and your partner to a bedroom or a similar arrangement. One can only wonder how many early Millineal children were a product or aftermath of a synchromatic encounter, especially when you remember the song’s caveat and insistence of “face-to-face”.
“Sweet Banana”, popular for being KSA’s biggest hit of the 80s, was more excited about the prospect of having fun (Ariya) than it was inspired for love—but Sweet Banana, a stand-alone phallic metaphor, remains an important fixture of modern day affection. In fact, some scholars have theorised that Sweet Banana as KSA explores it on the song extends beyond heteronormative interpretations.
Argue with your Sumec generator as much as you can but what is beyond dialogue is Sunny Ade’s vibrant vision from which our new artistes draw from—think Tekno’s cassava or D’Prince’s Take Banana.
“My Dear”, another 80s offering, begins as a placatory ditty that promises love-making, before it goes on to highlight the remarkable importance of sex. The song’s tangential take on affection, once settled on the female anatomy does not look back —and as if by Freudian coincidence, the Side B is a paean to mothers.
“Jealousy” which contains his tribute to the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo on its Side B is better remembered for “Sokoyokoto”, which loosely translates to Husband-fattening. As expected, there are food metaphors that will leave both Yemisi Aribisala and Ozoz Sokoh dazzled. This song confirms the influence of tradition on the prurient pool from where the likes of Flavour are getting their crass Jollof-rice and tomato-juice metaphors—but KSA’s handling of food metaphors in Yoruba is somewhat delicate if not sophisticated. He was neither aiming for melodrama nor shock; his purpose was to serenade, and serenade he did, with his poetic use of food metaphors nicely interpolated with affectionate possibilities.
“Sokoyokoto” is definitely his best love song but detractors will challenge this. They will mention “Ololufe”, a bonus track on his 1993 Glory album, with a pixelated music video on YouTube for those who either court nostalgia or reincarnation.
“Ololufe” brings back the Asa fish metaphor from “Sokoyokoto” but hardly renews or invigorates it. The song easily serenades on the basis of its thumping percussion, long-drawn pauses, melodious calls and responses.
It would be hard to say KSA hasn’t touched on the issues of love and affection since 1993 but his touch has neither been deft or memorable.
Juju music itself has been in a dire crisis of continuity, with the evolution of the percussion-heavy Tungba and the arrival of vulgar practitioners like Saint Janet, the presiding officer of the Saint Bottles Cathedral—but there will be time to dilate on that!