Often called the "Crown Prince of Juju" as he followed in the footsteps of the legendary King Sunny Ade, Nigerian bandleader Segun Adewale was one of most popular West African performers of the 1980s. Adewale served a long apprenticeship in several of the bands that developed the colorful juju style and brought it to international popularity. He gained widespread fame before juju's dominance was ended by the rise of the fuji style in Nigerian popular music of the 1990s.
Adewale, like Ade, was a member of the hereditary aristocracy of the Yoruba ethnic group. He was born in Oshogbo, Nigeria, in 1955 or 1956. His father taught him to play the guitar. Adewale attended local schools and was groomed by his family for a career as a doctor or lawyer. They ruled out a career in music, but Adewale's response was to leave home and move to the Nigerian capital of Lagos, where in the 1960s, juju music was taking shape from a rich mix of existing musical ingredients. Tribal drum rhythms were fused with guitars and other Western instruments, some of them brought to Africa by former American slaves, and others, such as the country music pedal steel guitar, of more recent importation.
Adewale signed on with one of the early juju bands, Chief S.L. Atolagbe and His Holy Rainbow, and, after some lean years, was encouraged to stick with his music by bandleader and accordionist I.K. Dairo. Dairo instructed the young musician in the art of songwriting and in creating arrangements for juju's huge, kinetic ensembles of musicians and dancers. In 1973 Adewale formed a band of his own called the Superstars. That ensemble released an album called Kogbodopa Finna-Finna but broke up almost immediately.
Late in 1974 Adewale joined another band that was a fixture of the juju scene, Prince Adekinle's Western Brothers Band. In 1977 he and another top musician in the band, Shina Peters, departed to form a group of their own, Shina Adewale and the Superstars International. Both musicians were considered young innovators, and while the well-publicized rivalry between juju's top stars, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade and His African Beat, gained international attention, Shina Adewale built an audience at home.
In 1980, after releasing several albums, Adewale and Peters parted ways, each with his own vision of how to take juju to its next stage. Adewale formed a new band of 20 musicians, once again called the Superstars. Releasing several albums in short order, the band began to realize Adewale's new ideas. By their fifth album, Endurance, Adewale had dubbed his sound "yo-pop" (meaning "Yoruba pop") and was blending musical ideas of reggae, funk, and the old-fashioned Nigerian dance style of highlife into the basic juju sound. The biggest influence, however, came from rock, a music that previously hadn't played much of a role in Nigerian music. The first difference that a Western listener may notice when comparing Adewale's music to that of his contemporaries is the presence of speedy, agile electric guitars. Essentially, Adewale fully integrated lead, bass, and other guitars into juju's net of percussion rhythms.
Yo-pop catapulted Adewale to the top of the heap in Nigerian music for a time. "All speed, thunder, and lightning," wrote the authors of World Music: The Rough Guide, of Adewale's sound, adding that "it found a huge young audience, especially in Lagos." Adewale also began to make waves among overseas Nigerian communities, and in 1984 he was signed to the Stern's Records label in the United Kingdom. His album Play for Me, which featured some English texts, was released in 1984 in the United Kingdom, and Adewale and the Superstars played several high-profile gigs there. In 1985 they performed three concerts at the Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland, a huge, days-long event encompassing theater, music, and street festivities.
The classic Adewale ensemble, as heard on the Ojo Je collection, consisted of lead guitar (played by Adewale himself, who also took lead vocals), another solo electric guitar, two talking drums, two tenor guitars, a pedal steel guitar, a bass guitar, congas, background vocalists, gourd maracas, a gong, traditional drums, and several other African instruments. His recordings often strung several individual pieces together, creating an unbroken stream of music that filled one side of an LP record and evoked the hours-long concert extravaganzas that juju groups perform live. Especially notable in Adewale's music was his use of talking drums—tuned drums that suggest spoken sentences by playing a series of pitches that correspond to the sentences' inflections.
Two of Adewale's albums for Stern's, Play for Me and the compilation Ojo Je, were released in the United States by the Rounder label in 1988, bringing him some attention among American listeners first exposed to juju by Ade's spectacular festival appearances in the mid-1980s. By that time, however, Adewale had lost ground in Nigeria to Peters, whose well-financed music shrewdly took advantage of the serious themes introduced to Nigerian music by Fela Anikulapo Kuti and his competing Afro-Beat style. Western listeners also began to discover the politically charged music of Kuti himself and the classic style of Ebenezer Obey, and Adewale's music was largely eclipsed. The two Rounder albums of 1988 remained Adewale's only forays into the American market until the late 1990s, and after Adewale's international fortunes suffered in comparison with those of other Nigerian groups, the Superstars broke up.
By the early 1990s the decades-old juju tradition itself was under siege commercially in Nigeria from a new music called fuji, a percussion-centered style that carried overtones of Nigerian Islamic sacred music. Adewale promoted himself as a defender of juju and proclaimed another new style of his own, called peperempe. Little was heard from him for much of the 1990s, but in 1996 he released an album, Here I Am in America, for a small Nigerian-American label called Celebrity Records. The following year he contributed to a compilation entitled Nigerian Artists for Peace. His place in the history of juju, a genre that did much to launch the whole idea of world music, has been secured, and he has left a large recorded legacy that, as of the early 2000s, mostly awaited rediscovery by Western lovers of African music.
For the Record …
Born c. 1955 in Oshogbo, Nigeria; member of royal family of Yoruba ethnic group. Education: Studied composition and arranging with juju bandleader I.K. Dairo.
Performed with juju ensembles of Chief S.L. Atolagbe and I.K Dairo; formed the Superstars, 1973; joined Prince Adekunle's Western Brothers Band, 1974; with Sir Shina Peters formed Shina Adewale and the Superstars International, 1977; split with Peters and formed new Superstars group, 1979; recorded 15 albums, with several albums released in U.K. and U.S., 1980s-early 1990s; released album Here I Am in America, 1996; contributed to Nigerian Artists for Peace album, 1997.
Addresses: Record company—Celebrity Records, 10553 W. Jefferson Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232.
With Shina Adewale and the Superstars International
Superstar Verse 1, Decca, late 1970s.
Superstar Verse 2, Decca, late 1970s
Superstar Verse 3, Decca, late 1970s.
Superstar Verse 4, Decca, 1978.
Verse 6: Superstars New Sound, Decca, 1979.
Segun Adewale and His Superstars International
Superstar Verse 8, Wel-Kadeb, 1980.
Irawo Tiwa Lo Dode: Verse 9, Wel-Kadeb, 1980.
Endurance, Segun Adewale, 1982.
Boomerang (Ika Aka Onika), Segun Adewale, 1982.
Ase (Amen), Segun Adewale, 1983.
Play for Me, Stern's Records, 1984; reissued, Rounder, 1988.
Atewo Lara, Segun Adewale, 1984.
Ojo Je, Stern's Records, 1985; reissued, Rounder, 1988.
Yo-Pop 85, Polygram, 1985.
I Love You, Kay Nath, 1987.
Yours Forever, Jolaosho, 1988.
Omnipotent, EMI, 1989.
Cash & Carry, EMI, 1990.
Yo-Pop & Sisi Nurse, EMI, 1992.
Second Coming, Marvin Oiwa, early 1990s.
Here I Am in America (Emi Re), Celebrity, 1996.
(Contributor) Nigerian Artists for Peace, Peace Project, 1997.
Broughton, Simon, et al., editors, World Music: The Rough Guide, Volume 1, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, Rough Guides, 1999.
Clarke, Donald, editor, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Viking, 1989.
Graham, Ronnie, Da Capo Guide to Contemporary African Music, Da Capo, 1988.
Larkin, Colin, editor, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze, 1998.
Sweeney, Philip, Virgin Directory of World Music, Henry Holt, 1991.
"Juju," Afropop Worldwide, http://www.afropop.org/explore/style_info/ID/18/juju (July 1, 2004).
"Segun Adewale," African Music Encyclopedia, http://africanmusic.org/artists/adewale.html (July 1, 2004).
"Segun Adewale," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (July 1, 2004).
"Segun Adewale," Lycos Music, http://music.lycos.com (July 1, 2004).
—James M. Manheim