Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, Kedu America

Robert Christgau

By Robert Christgau

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Like so many African states, Nigeria is a fiction of imperialism, not an ethnically coherent nation. It's huge, too, and thus has generated a profusion of pop genres. Yet distinct though the main ones — juju, fuji and highlife — may be, they share a similar looseness. They're not songful like South African mbaqanga, or intricate like Congolese soukous or, as happens in Senegal and Mali, reducible to "trancelike" or "circular." They clatter.

One of highlife’s great stars celebrates the old ways with a gently breathing groove.

Born in 1936, Ibo vocalist-guitarist Osadebe emerged in the '60s as a star of the highlife Nigerians imported from the Ghanaian Anglophones to the west. Guitars played "palm wine" melodies and/or kept the beat, jazz-style brass signified modern affluence and percussionists provided the indigenous polyrhythms that rendered the whole Nigerian. As soukous flash permeated the style, Osadebe trumpeted preservationism on over 200 albums.

Recorded one day in Connecticut in 1994, this collection reprises many chestnuts, notably the opening "Onuigbo" and the big hit "Osondi Owendi," as well as offering up the politely occasional "Kedu America." Osadebe's voice has roughened, but he's still the master of a gently breathing groove in which nothing sounds precision tooled and everything sounds mutually understood. Kedu America is a mood album, emceed by an apostle of the old ways set on giving you a good time.