Benham Jones Reports, Unhinged at Bonnaroo…pt5: King Sunny Ade, TV on the Radio

by Landry on June 13, 2009

Saturday, June 13, 2009

10:01 am CDT

So I crashed really hard last night. I was doing my best to stay ahead of the curve, hydrated and happy, but then sometime around 7 o’clock, after I kicked up dust with King Sunny Ade and sat down to chat with Alberta Cross, my system just shut down. I went back to camp to regroup and relax when I found Keith and Angie chilling out in the dark. At first I thought Keith had struck love in the diamond mine so I tried my best to switch into tactical and evasive maneuvers, but then I realized Angie was actually lord of our camp site, as she is Johnny’s seven-month pregnant girlfriend and our ticket to handicap camping. Did I not mention Johnny? Did I not mention handicap camping?

To backtrack though, after meeting with Madi Diaz and soaking in mud during Animal Collective, I hit up the “Africa Calling” set in one of the tents. I had intended to spend the late afternoon with Yeah Yeah Yeahs but decided I didn’t really want to study Karen O from two hundred yards away; besides, if I’m going to see Yeah Yeah Yeahs anywhere, it might as well be New York City. Flanked by a huge emblazed Africa tapestry, King Sunny Ade and the African Beats had just hit the stage when I rolled up to a half-full tent at full party. And even though I love Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I knew that I had made the right choice.

To some ears early on, the West African obsession with bright synth sounds can come off as cheesy and almost crassly plastic. But as the synth soaks into the rat-tat beat of every song, the whole picture becomes clear. For King Sunny, there is no sense of irony, no sense of pre-conceived cool; rather, everything is pointed straight at the sky and towards a good time. It only took me a few minutes to lose my shoes and continue the clay bath that I began at Animal Collective, handling myself light on the toes and in my fingertips. As the early bits of the set chugged on, a beautiful realization swept over me; to my surprise, it turns out that I am and have always been West African in my approach towards dance. While King Sunny and his gang may have had more going on in the hips, the use of pantomime and pretend was so familiar that it was spooky. It’s the dance of a geek trying to avoid the White Man’s Wedding Shuffle, where the air is like a canvas to invent fake partners, fishing rods and shopping carts. Members of the African Beats took turns pretending to rhythmically shit into each other’s hands. Two beautiful and curvaceous women came out when King Sunny picked up the guitar and conducted them in a contest of seduction, ebbing and flowing between a single string B.B. King blues and an amped up hic-up beat.……..please click here to continue reading

Benham Jones currently lives in New York City with his four year old cat Stella.

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