A FEW YEARS AGO, the music press was buzzing with news about Nigerian juju, arguing that once King Sunny Ade broke the American market, juju's thickly layered percussion patterns would be as common as reggae rhythms in American pop. Needless to say, that never came to pass, but that doesn't mean that juju is any less interesting or enjoyable.
In fact, after a few listens to "Juju Jubilee," the first American release by Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, you may find yourself wondering if Sunny Ade wasn't the wrong man to introduce juju to America. Unlike Ade, whose innovations occasionally sounded arty even by African standards, Obey's tastes are for the tried and true, and as such, he delivers his juju with a decidedly mainstream flair.
His band's vocal harmonies, for instance, are tight and tuneful, and his melodic sense owes obvious debts to American blues and country. But the sound is utterly African, with intricate instrumental interplay lacing the harmonic and rhythmic ideas together in a rich fabric of musical color. And, best of all, Obey periodically sings in English, making things easier for those who don't understand Yoruba.
CHIEF COMMANDER EBENEZER OBEY -- "Juju Jubilee" (Shanacie 43031); appearing Friday at Kilimanjaro's Heritage Hall.