Thursday, September 27, 2007

Nigeria's Unsung Prince of Juju

Most people who have a passing acquaintance with African music are familiar with juju music from Nigeria, and its most famous practitioner, King Sunny Ade. If they've done a little more exploring they've probably come across the music of Ebenezer Obey, I.K. Dairo or Dele Abiodun.

Chances are, though, that they've never heard of "General" Prince Adekunle, which is a shame, because he's easily among the first rank of juju artistes. I have been unable to find out anything about Mr. Adekunle personally, or where he may have served his musical apprenticeship. He seems to have made his first recordings in the late 1960s (I suspect he adopted the moniker "General" as a tribute to to the controversial "Black Scorpion," General Benjamin Adekunle, who played a critical role on the Federal side during the Biafra War.)

During his 1970s glory days Adekunle's Western Brothers band (later renamed the Supersonic Sounds) was the proving ground for numerous juju musicians, notably Segun Adewale and Sir Shina Peters, who have acheived far more fame internationally than their mentor. He issued numerous popular recordings during that decade, his output slowing during the 1980s. After 1990's People!!! (Ibukun Orisun Iye MOLPS 118) little has been heard from him. His decline in popularity seems to parallel the declining fortunes of juju itself.

In the hopes of giving more attention to this unjustly neglected artist, I present here a sample of recordings by Mr. Adekunle, all from the late '60s or 1970s. With the exception of the 1975 selection, these are taken from cassette reissues rather than the original vinyl. The sound quality, though, isn't too bad, and I think you'll agree that the musicianship more than compensates for any deficiencies.

Our first three tunes are from a cassette entitled Good Old Music of Prince Adekunle (Ibukun Orisun Iye MOLPS 72), which compiled a number of 45s made by Adekunle at the beginning of his career, probably in the late '60s. "Bisimilai" is notable for its use of the trumpet, almost unheard of in juju, while "Ko Sore Bi Jesu/Ofofo O Da" pays tribute to Victor Uwaifo's "Joromi" in its opening bars:

Prince Adekunle & his Western Brothers - Bisimilai

Prince Adekunle & his Western Brothers - Se Rere Fun Mi

Prince Adekunle & his Western Brothers -
Ko Sore Bi Jesu/Ofofo O Da

1972's General Prince Adekunle in the United Kingdom (Ibukun Orisun Iye MOLPS 6), finds Adekunle & the band in an expansive mood, in one of those 18-minute jams that had by then become de riguer for any juju band:

General Prince Akekunle & his Western Brothers - London Special

By 1975 the Western Brothers had become the Supersonic Sounds, and had developed an even spacier, more "psychedelic" sound. Although Side A of You Tell Me That You Love Me Baby (Ibukun Orisun Iye MOLPS 30) is one of the more exciting, danceable sequences in the juju canon, check out the groove Adekunle & the band get going on this, the B side:

General Prince Adekunle & his Supersonic Sounds - Aiye Nreti Eleya/Aropin Ni T'enia/Eni To Lohun o Fe Tiwa/Awon Ma Wo Won Bo/Ota Ile Dehin Lehin Mi

One thing I find especially charming about juju recordings of the '70s is the musicians' penchant for dropping into the mix anything that catches their fancy: church hyms, Broadway show tunes, what have you. Catch Adekunle's quotation from Fela Anikulapo-Kuti's "Gentleman" late in this medley from 1976's Awodi Nfo Ferere (Ibukun Orisun Iye MOLPS 32):

General Prince Adekunle & his Supersonic Sounds - Omo Niyi Omo Nide/A Ki Nromo Ra Loja/Ma Se'ka Iwo Ore/Esan Nbo Wa

Discography of Prince Adekunle


jon said...

The 18 minute groove one is very nice. Thanks for that.
And thanks for the Google Analytics tip, however it tells me that 4 people picked up my last mix ( sigh ) You don't happen to know if it includes people who have subscribed to the podcast in the statistics or not. . . I'm hoping not . . . ;-)
the vinyl shares get plenty of hits mind you.

Anonymous said...

You said it all concerning Prince Adekunle. I've actually been looking for posts concerning him. I wonder why you didn't post 'You tell me that you love me' (Maybe due to his 'inspiration' from the beatles. :)). Hope you find time to post it in the future. Keep up the good work.

reservatory said...

Really great stuff. Thanks!