Nigerian juju star King Sunny Ade never fulfilled the pundits' predictions that he would be Africa's Bob Marley, the artist who would break Afro pop into American consciousness. But Ade, still a superstar on his own continent, continues to tour here often. Friday night at Kilimanjaro, Ade and his 15-member African Beats played a brand of juju remarkable for its complexity, agility and infectiousness.
As more and more American musicians cop African rhythms, there's no reason why Africans shouldn't reciprocate. That was implied in "Africa and America," not the only number to incorporate the twangy pedal steel, an instrument usually associated with Nashville rather than Lagos. Ade's generous set also included an uncharacteristic free-form jazzy sequence marked by a reggae-influenced pulse.
But with the exception of a few subdued numbers that had a lulling effect, most of the material raced at a soca-speed clop, as no less than six players pounded out a percussion panorama intensified by the haunting beats of a pair of talking drums. As a trio of guitarists played intertwining lines, four singers provided harmonies and response chants to Ade's nasal tenor. It wasn't long before patrons showered Ade with handfuls of bills, a traditional Yoruba gesture of respect that was well deserved.