Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & His Nigerian Soundmakers | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe & His Nigerian Soundmakers 

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Over the last few decades a variety of Nigerian musical exports--from the juju of King Sunny Ade and I.K. Dairo to the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti to the fuji of Barrister--have squeezed out good old highlife in the U.S. world-music market. But the form, which originated in Ghana and was introduced to Nigeria by the legendary E.T. Mensah, has dominated the eastern Igbo region steadily since the 50s. In the U.S. the best-known purveyors of its elegant, simmering grooves have been Prince Nico Mbarga and Sonny Okosun, but neither of them has upheld the tradition longer or more carefully than Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe. He's made more than 30 albums in his four-decade career, but until recently only one--Kedu America (Xenophile), recorded in Connecticut in 1995--was consistently available here. Earlier this year Indigedisc released Sound Time, a collection of seven lengthy tracks recorded between 1972 and 1985. Ostinatos played on wah-wah guitar intertwine over shuffling, seductive polyrhythms, punctuated by terse brass charts, and the abundant solos are often fantastic. The guitar sections unspool into unhurried spirals of surprisingly textured notes--sometimes resembling country twang, sometimes freeze-dried psychedelia, but always controlled. The jazzy trumpet solos frequently sound like clever collages of horn passages from dozens of old Cuban son records--fittingly, since the Afro-Caribbean clave rhythm pulses through much of the music. Osadebe half chants, half sings, his voice rising and falling with the groove on songs that preach acceptance and occasionally praise his patrons--like "Nri Sports Di Uso," which pays tribute to the dignitaries of Nri (thought to be the cradle of Igbo civilization) and their local sports club. Osadebe, who's 65, rarely tours the U.S.; this opportunity to catch his stage show shouldn't be missed. Monday, September 3, 3:45 PM, African Festival of the Arts (see sidebar for complete schedule), Washington Park, 55th and Cottage Grove; 773-955-2787.


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