REVIEW: King Sunny Ade at the Triple Door

Posted June 30th, 2009 by genestout

King Sunny Ade and His African Beats performed Monday night at the Triple Door in Seattle.

King Sunny Ade and His African Beats performed Monday night at the Triple Door in Seattle.

Known for their all-night dance marathons, Nigeria’s King Sunny Ade and His African Beats turned an hourlong set into what felt like an all-night party Monday night at the Triple Door.

With more than a dozen colorfully dressed male singer-musicians gyrating and harmonizing on a compact stage, the concert created an intoxicating groove that brought gleeful concertgoers to the Triple Door’s tiny dance floor.

The concert (there were actually two, one at 7 and another at 10 p.m.) might not have happened had it not been for a significant milestone in Seattle music radio — Jon Kertzer’s 25th anniversary as the host of “The Best Ambiance,” KEXP’s pioneering world-music program.

Kertzer, who describes Ade’s music as a key inspiration for his show (which made its debut on KEXP’s predecessor, KCMU), was able to convince the Afro-pop group to come to Seattle after performing in Vancouver, B.C., as part of a North American festival tour. It was the group’s first Seattle appearance in eight years.

“It was perfect,” Kertzer said of the timing of the celebratory concert.

Tom Mara, executive director of KEXP, introduced Ketzer before the set.

“If you were to dust KEXP history for fingerprints, Jon’s would be all over it,” Mara said, acknowledging Kertzer’s passion for programming and promoting African music.

KEXP DJ Kevin Cole was also on hand to present Kertzer with an impressive-looking trophy commemorating the anniversary.

Despite the brevity of the 7 p.m. set, Ade and his men built complicated songs brick by brick, then carefully disassembled them in an amazing show of virtuosity and good juju. Supplementing the vocal harmonies that anchor the group’s music were a synthesizer player and drummer. The group sang in Yoruba, though occasionally Ade interjected an English word to the delight of concertgoers.

Though African based, Ade’s music is a blend of styles that hint of such American idioms as blues and country, as well as merengue and calypso. With little more than a gentle guitar riff, Ade often steered the group in a new direction, and members responded almost intuitively.

Underlying the complex, multi-layered sound was a sense of liberation and joy that uplifted the audience.

Opening the show was the Occidental Brothers, a five-piece African-American dance band that Kertzer discovered in New York (the group is based in Chicago). With colorful frontman Kofi Cromwell on vocals, trumpet, flugelhorn and a gourdlike percussion instrument, the group fused West African dance music with jazz and roots rock. The music was buoyant and invigorating.

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