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Published: 2003/05/28
by Jesse Jarnow

Synchro Series – King Sunny Ad

IndigeDisc 0004
Besides the cover shot of 12 men in checkered African shirts, there is no
indication of how many – let alone which – musicians make up King Sunny
Ad39;s orchestra on the two albums repackaged on the newly released
Synchro Series. And maybe it doesn’t matter. As the leader of
Nigerian pop throughout the 1970s and ’80s, Adas released literally
hundreds of albums, upwards of a half-dozen a year sometimes. Given the vibe
of the music, that method affords a casualness that somehow defies the needs
for careful discographies or session rosters. (Though, from a scholarly
perspective, I imagine it would be a rewarding, real swell bitch of an
Very little of Ad39;s practically infinite catalogue has yet made it to the
United States. The music here – recorded at the peak of Ad39;s international
popularity as the Next Big World Thing following the death of Bob Marley – is drawn from two records: 1982’s Gbe Kini Ohun De and 1983’s
Synchro Series. The former is a band driven effort comprised of three
extended cuts, the latter a collection of dubbed out excursions. Given the
influence of African music over the years (notably on albums like Paul
Simon’s Graceland and in Trey Anastasio’s solo work), the music still
manages to come as a cool surprise — familiar, and immediately obvious as
containing the mysterious airiness that Simon, Anastasio, and others have
stalked like a fountain of youth.
The music on Gbe Kini Ohun De is rich. That Ad39;s orchestra never
sounds cluttered is surely an accomplishment in itself. But what is truly
mindblowing about it is how bloody quietly everybody seems to be
playing. And that includes seemingly about a half-dozen electric guitarists,
a lap steel player, a couple of percussionists, and maybe even a bassist and
trap drummer. Everything weaves in and out of each other, dozens of parts
interlocking, disengaging, and reconnecting. Hawaiian steel soars over it
all, vibrato swooping through loops of groove, as the band explores ever
shifting pockets.
What’s curious to think about is that this is not a "pure" music in any way,
shape, or form. Just as Ad39;s sound was gleefully imported and absorbed by
American musicians, Adimself was an active sponge in creating his
distinct sound. On one end, as Benson Idonige’s liner notes point out, Adas studying the tenor guitar arrangements of Afro-beat legend (and
contemporary) Fela Kuti. At the same time, he was also being influenced by
the emerging Jamaican dub culture. The fantastic results are distinctly
regional, but never could have happened without industrialization. Go
The contrast of a half-disc of unmodified tracks followed by a half-disc of
dub is quite pleasing. The arrangements seem to go deeper into echoing
caverns as the album progresses. Where Jamaican dub thrives on the distorted
kick drum, Ad39;s Nigerian interpretation favors cleaner rhythms, distinct
distant knocking. Instead of sounding like electronically altered
percussion, it just sounds like extremely patient musicians with exquisitely
tasteful timing.
Given the echo of goods and ideas in the record industry – new releases
morphing into slightly differing repackages with fewer and fewer years
between, new ideas becoming newer ones – that’s just what Adand
Synchro Series) is: exquisite.

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