20 YEARS AFTER
When it suddenly occurred to me that this year marks the 20th anniversary of Shina Peters’ groundbreaking album ‘Ace’, I started planning to write a special tribute to the bestselling album that changed the direction of Juju music for good. It would be impossible to do that without looking at the effect of the album’s critical and commercial success on Shina Peters’ post Shina Adewale career as well as the blessings and curses a hit album brings upon its author.
But I made a big mistake: I shared the idea with one of my closest friends and colleague. ‘‘You want to write about Sir Shina Peters? People won’t read it. You’ll see, there won’t be any comments…’’. She was willing to make a bet. According to her theory, most people who read E-Punch are young music lovers who want to keep up with what’s new, what’s hot, and what’s not. And in her dictionary, anything that’s not pop, R&B, soul, rap or dancehall is a no no. e.g. Shina Peters.
How old is she? 24. So you see? She was just four when Shina became more popular than the Head of State. She was still a baby when ‘Ace’ broke the sales charts and carted home every music award.
But while I perfectly appreciate her fears and preferences, I am also aware that there are a lot of readers, who – just like me- can sing Shina’s Ace from A to Z; and are still up to this moment, active patrons of music. However, I’m putting pen to paper not for them, but for the younger fans, who are hooked on 2face and D’Banj and Psquare; for the younger acts, who are so used to churning out hits after hits, that it never occurs to them that a day will come when the hits will take a break, fans will follow a new trend, and stardom will start taking its toll.
I was preparing for college, in 1989, when CBS released Ace. The musician, a 31 year-old band-leader named Shina Peters had made several failed attempts at kick-starting his solo career, after leaving the Sir Shina Adewale band (led by himself and another remarkable musician Segun Adewale). While his former band obeyed the commandments of conventional Juju music, Peters and his new band, performing regularly at Stadium Hotel, in Lagos, experimented with traditional percussion instruments hitherto alien to juju music. They quickened the tempo, employed free language, and wore a brash demeanour. Of course the young ones, usually in love with deviant ideas, fell in love with the new sound. And it wasn’t long before the labels, pressured by PMAN to work with local talents, went looking for Shina and his band.
As Laolu Akins (who produced Ace and four other Shina albums) told me this week, no one was sure how successful the new sound would be. ‘‘That you can attract lots of people to live performances doesn’t exactly mean there’s a hundred percent guarantee you can translate that into commercial recording success’’. But the label took the chance, signing on an act that many had written off.
‘Ace’ worked like magic; earning Peters respect and recognition; putting his career back on track; increasing labels’ belief in local talent; and, forever changing the direction of modern juju music.
E se o…E se o/ E se o… E se o/ Afro Juju l’e fe gbo o/ E se o… The album opens, hip and fast from the first beat, as the musician lead us astray – away from the ‘conventional’, ‘sensible’ Juju format we were accustomed to. Surprisingly, we liked it. So much that we even allowed him lead us into temptation – temptation to abandon tested veterans like Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey; and sign the dotted lines with Afro juju. And when I say ‘we’, I mean an entire nation. Apart from football and love for the Super Eagles, the only other thing that tore down ethnic and class barriers, in 1989 and 1990, was Shina Peters’ ‘Ace’. Mr Peters enjoyed every minute of the success; hitting stages from Lagos to Lafia, and raking in revenue he could only have seen in his dreams. He would be on the road for days, honouring one engagement after the other; and making sure that the Ace fever became an epidemic.
With just one album, Shina’s success dwarfed that of his former partner Segun Adewale (who was also propagating the gospel of a new genre he christened Yo Pop) and caused established juju acts like KSA and Obey to sit up.
What worked for Shina then, is what’s working for today’s stars: youth, energy, determination and ability to fill a void.
But youth does not last forever. Shina clocked 51 last Saturday. And, although he still frequently performs around the world, and still very much wanted on the party circuit, SSP, as he’s fondly called, has travelled a long journey from ‘Aceland’.
I hope that someday, the story will be told, by those who knew him closely in the days of Ace, Shinamania, Dancing Time and Experience. The story of how he rose from shame to fame; of how money-bags scrambled to befriend him; how he infected us all with Shinamania and caused our women to fall head-over-heels in lust with him… The story of, how the popularity started to decline; of the altercation and break-up with his band members; parting ways with Sony music; of the musical decline and ill-managed image that would later crash his ratings and send his career down the ignoble path of disaster.
The story of Peters’ shame-fame-shame-fame perambulation; and the unfortunate affliction of his once robust and healthy career with hemiplegia is one that a lot of present-day pop stars can learn from. And perhaps, while tracing the musician’s sojourn, we might also be able to diagnose the diseases plaguing Juju music and understand why Fuji – a hitherto backstreet genre- has suddenly overtaken Juju.
I’m listening to the Ace album again, and it’s difficult to believe it’s been all of 20 years. SSP and Laolu Akins might not be making hits anymore, but they made this one. They might not be as relevant today as they were two decades ago, and this facebook-twitter generation might not give a hoot about them, but no one can deny that in their youth, they gave life to beautiful music that’ll stand the test of time and survive many generations.
How many of today’s musicians and producers can we say the same of?