Friday, 26 August 2016

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


By on 17:15
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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 suckling.

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.


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 retirement).
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.

Gbenga Dan Asabe

Africa's Number One Celebrity Encounter Blog

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