Peace Corps Online: State: New York: NEW YORK'S GREAT AFRICAN BALL RETURNS APRIL 29!

By Amadou Diouf ( on Monday, April 18, 2005 - 6:56 pm: Edit Post


On Friday, April 29 the Great African Ball returns to Roseland Ballroom for another all-night celebration of African music in the City That Never Sleeps!

This year the Ball will feature Nigeria’s most popular singer, guitarist, and bandleader – Sunday Adeniyi – more commonly known as King Sunny Ade – with his astonishing twenty-piece Juju orchestra.

King Sunny Ade’s music – a jaunty, indescribably funky Nigerian rock style known as Juju – is a window on both the beginning and the end of an era in African pop music. If you follow Juju’s history from its acoustic roots in the palm wine sheds of the sweltering port city of Lagos to its evolution as the electrified and electrifying music embraced by legions of fans in that modern metropolis, there is quite a tale to be told…and Ade will tell it liberally to New Yorkers at Roseland when this year’s Ball returns!

“Most Nigerians would hardly recognize one of my performances in America in the past, “ Ade commented recently in anticipation of the upcoming Ball, “because they usually ran only a fraction of the length of a performance in Nigeria. It’s not been our fault. We’d like to go longer. Back in Nigeria we’re just warming up after two or three hours. The shows last about ten hours and go on until dawn. But here we have to come in very strong and within an hour we need to have taken charge. That’s not really how we’d like to do it.”

In the image of past Balls, this Roseland event will be the kind of dance party aimed to reflect the kind of unhinged performances Ade and his band give in Lagos. The women, men, fashions, food, fragrances and verve of Lagos will all be on offer, mingling with New York’s own homegrown African vibes in a modern “Naija-style” evening in which the crowd itself may well be Ade’s co-star.

Contemporary Juju draws on the popular tastes and styles of modern Lagos, imbibing heavily of both traditional and Fuji-influenced percussion. But the roots of Juju hail back to Lagos’ palm wine halls of the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s, and to the likes of such luminaries as J.O. Araba, Tunde King, I.K. Dairo and Tunde Nightingale. These musicians blazed the way in the 1950’s for a rootsy social music to become the first modern indigenous Yoruba popular music in Nigeria. This was the music on which young Sunday Adeniyi was raised, sneaking into late-night parties to listen to his musical heroes.

Juju was already, by definition, a modern affair. But by 1977 the newly crowned King Sunny Ade had become the leading innovator in an ever-modernizing Juju, and – perhaps until now – he never looked back.

When Verna Gillis presented King Sunny Ade’s first performance in New York in 1983, The Village Voice’s Greg Tate heralded that rather stunning arrival of African popular music on America’s shores as an infusion of energy, polyrhythms and African soul which would forever affect the way Americans – black and white – appreciate the music of Africa. It did. In The New York Times, Robert Palmer called the event “the pop event of the decade.” Perhaps it was. Since the mid-1990’s King Sunny has remained unchallenged as the greatest and last Juju musician in Nigeria. The entertainer of choice for heads of state and for cultural and business leaders in Nigeria and throughout Africa, today he maintains a busy schedule of performances, mostly in Nigeria, from which he has taken his first break in over five years to bring his music back to fans (Nigerians and Americans alike) in the United States.

New York’s first Great African Ball, conceived by Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour, was held at a packed Hammerstein Ballroom in April 1999, and each year since it has taken on the personality of a full Senegalese “ball” intended to push African music performance in America beyond the confines of concert stage curfews. When Youssou N’Dour learned that his good friend King Sunny Ade had not performed in New York since 1999 and wished to present a marathon dance evening in the same style, he immediately suggested a passing of the baton to Ade for the present edition of the Ball.

At this year’s Great African Ball, King Sunny Ade, like Youssou N’Dour before him, will be relishing his opportunity for a change of atmosphere. This offers New Yorkers an extraordinary menu of music from a man rightfully called a legend.

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