Composer: S. Adeniyi.
Personnel: King Sunny Ade (guitar); Tunde Temiola, Matthew Temiola, Niyi Falaye, Jacob Ajakaye (vocals); Segun Llori, Bob Ohiri (guitar); Jelili Lawal (bass instrument); Moses Akanbi (drums); Alhaji Timmy Olaitan, Rasaki Aladokun (drum); Shina Abiodun (congas); Adeyemi Adisa (bongos); Michael Babalola (maracas); Gani Aiashe (shekere).
When King Sunny Ade was signed to Island Records in the early '80s and introduced to Westerners as the newest African flavor of the month, his longtime fans in Nigeria must have been scratching their heads. Sunny Ade, to them, was already a national icon, his music familiar and the artist larger than life. The tracks collected here, like those on Shanachie's earlier The Best of the Classic Years, come from Sunny Ade's earliest years in the studio, 1967-1974, long before the release of Island's incredible Juju Music, the 1982 album that was intended to make Sunny Ade an international star on the order of Bob Marley (it didn't quite work out that way, but plenty of people still consider that album a world music must-have). The music on Gems from the Classic Years is somewhat leaner than that of the Island era, but no less epic or mesmerizing. The nearly-18-minute opening salvo, the four-song "Ori Mmi Majae N'te," was a complete album side when it was introduced, as were the three other lengthy medleys that follow it. Two other tracks that wrap up the set are raw, single album tracks of a few minutes each, and together they give an honest indication of what Sunny Ade's early music was all about: spare, non-stop, deep bass rhythms cut and pasted among swirling pastiches of melody; exquisite guitar lines almost omnipresent beneath the surface and emerging in solos frequently enough to dazzle; Sunny Ade's nasal lead vocals responded to in kind by ebullient choruses. This is African jam band music, recorded in less than state-of-the-art facilities (audiophiles take note: this ain't about that) but captivating hypnotically despite sonic imperfection. Unlike Sunny Ade's later recordings, the backing here is minimal, unembellished by multiple percussionists, steel guitars and the like. Yet it's no less powerful and soulful, juju at its most primal and direct. Sunny Ade may not have been known outside of his homeland just yet, but he was already a star. ~ Jeff Tamarkin