LOCATION: Central Park Summer Stage NY.NY / Metrotech Pavillion BK.NY
SUBJECT: King Sunny Adé
There are a few banner names that serve as introductions to African music—at least for most (white) Americans: Fela Kuti, Angélique Kidjo, Youssou N'Dour… Thanks to the WIRE magazine, I started with King Sunny Adé. I can't remember at this remove, but it might well have been the first time I had call to wander into the 'world music' section at Tower Records. Not finding the record I was looking for—Juju Music—I grabbed what ended up being a collection of earlier material (at a bargain price). Needless to say my mind was blown. More than just the inventive use of guitars or the long mutating medleys,
it was the my first brush with that distinctly African sense of harmony. Slightly off-pitch from the Western scale I was raised with, it swoops and dips in ways that still thrill me. So I was giddy when I stumbled upon news that King Sunny was doing not one, but two free, outdoor shows in NYC this summer.
Unfortunately, the first was a disappointment. I'd honestly never been to Central Park Summer Stage before, but it was… weird. Metal bleachers in the hot sun and seating areas on risers covered in astroturf. A large, 'members-only' section, takes up the middle, keeping the rest shunted off to the sides of the stage, where the sound was surprisingly low, leaving half Sunny's large ensemble completely unheard. We ended up leaving early, but I mentally committed to seeing the second show, convincing myself it would be better.
Luckily I was correct. For a midday show in the middle of the week, in an odd part of Brooklyn, you might expect a low turnout of misfits, but there was a solid showing of people who were clearly into the band. Some even knew the words to the songs. The sound was punchy, and and the band grooved hard. The 70-year old Sunny even busted a few dance steps.
So, three cheers for NYC, the only place in America where I would have enough chances to catch an African music legend—for free, in one summer—that one concert could redeem the other.
NOTES: King Sunny Adé and His African Beats
PRESENT: 702, Angela F.; 714, Jose A., Jesse S.