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Four years ago, when Nigerian juju legend King Sunny Ade last played Chicago, the show was pitched largely to the local Nigerian expat community and as such provided an experience similar to what you might get in Lagos (I doubt I'll ever see such a big contingent of sharp-dressed Nigerians at the Vic). A large portion of the concert was devoted to praise songs: fans would climb onto the stage and "spray" the musicians with cash, sticking it to sweaty foreheads or simply tossing the bills in a constant shower, and Ade would respond with improvised praise for his patrons. It was fascinating to watch for a while, but since I couldn't understand what Ade was saying I was prepared to enjoy an hour of it.
For this Ravinia gig Ade is back in Western showbiz mode, playing tightened-up arrangements of his songs without the extended spraying section. His latest U.S. studio effort, Seven Degrees North (Mesa/Blue Moon), was originally released in 2000, but the dissolution of V2 Records a few years back pushed it out of print; it's been reissued to coincide with the tour. It's a sturdy album, even given the irritating presence of electronic keyboards on a bunch of tracks, and the crisp performances contain all of the Ade trademarks: gently cooed singing, wild talking-drum explosions, interlocking guitar and percussion patterns, and pedal-steel solos galore.
King Sunny Ade & His African Beats perform at Ravinia tomorrow night with Femi Kuti, son of perhaps the one Nigerian musician who's always been more famous than Ade both at home and abroad.
Maysa, Maysa é Maysa . . . é Maysa, é Maysa (Som Livre)
Federico Ughi, Gene Janas, and Daniel Carter, People's Resonance (577)
Conjunto Sete de Ouros, Sete do Ouros (Odeon)
Built to Spill, Live (Warner Bros.)
Tortoise, Beacons of Ancestorship (Thrill Jockey)