Thanks to Will Hermes and Bill Bragin for sending on the below note from Andrew Frankel about King Sunny Ade and the practice of "spraying." I was at the Great African Ball and left because I found the spraying so annoying. Though it was amusing for maybe half an hour, the spraying (which involves no physical act that looks like "spraying") eventually became a long, static line of people on stage, blocking the audience's view of the musicians, and preventing us from seeing whatever transactions were going down between the patrons and King Sunny. It was extra boring, and a real shame to have a wet blanket dropped on such a sparkling, spring-heeled show. J Shep and I were ready to stay all night—the band knew what they were doing, when they were allowed to do it.
"To the comments on the King Sunny Ade tour and spraying: I don't know exactly how much money the band collected on stage (they keep it all) but it was a lot less than they generally get sprayed at home.
The spraying bit for the US shows was my idea, as we struggled in advance of a very unusual tour (co-promoting shows with Nigerian social clubs all over the US) with how to bring together this artists three primary audiences (in the case of King Sunny Ade that would be Nigerian expatriates, African-Americans, and the "mainstream" poly-ethnic World Music audience). We thought that maybe presenting a show in a context more familiar to Nigerians from home would bring them out, while doing the educational legwork, and providing a new angle on this practice would bring out, and maybe expand the horizons of the other audiences. Our emphasis, at least initially was on the praise singing aspect, more than the spraying, but the two tend to be part and parcel.
Ironically, while it was fun, and generated lots of nice press, I would have to pronounce the experiment a failure. I am not condemning the process nor claiming that I would not refine the concept and try it again, but we just didn't get the results we had hoped for (i.e a large and satisfied audience, and a happy band). Our shortcomings are the most interesting and culturally informative bits of the experience.
1) The Nigerian crowd did not materialize in proportion to what we hoped for/expected. Indeed the spraying angle was appealing to them, but, in fact, most Nigerian parties are hosted (weddings, birthdays, openings), and there is typically little or no admission. Rather, guests are fed and watered, and their only outlay (other than for their spiffy duds, and a gift for the celebrants) may be what they want to spray. $30-$50 ticket prices for the shows scared many of these folks (especially those with families) away. Furthermore, typical Nigerian parties are gatherings of friends, family, age mates, social organizations and the like, so even though you might have 2000+ people at an event, there is a social cohesion one does not get at a ticketed show and, which adds to the appeal of participating in being praised and spraying in response.
2) The non-Nigerian audiences found spraying fascinating for a full Warholian 15 minutes. . . . and then they started heading for the doors . . . and streaming out of the venues. This was largely attributed to two things, a) the band are very visual with lots of dancing, and no-one could see them for the audience members lurking on stage, and b) the music which provides the background for typical praise singing is more repetitive than your normal verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge song structure. The band lay down a groove and the singers provide the variety through their call and response, proverbs, and social commentary. All the education and PR in the world did not help audiences penetrate the dense Yoruba language and idiom to make this interesting to non-speakers.
3) King Sunny Ade and in general the band, were not all that happy with the experience. Firstly, they really enjoy coming to the west to perform pure stage shows as a nice counterpoint to what they mostly do at home. They felt short changed on their opportunity to put on a great show. Secondly spraying in Nigeria is actually an elegant and stately affair for the most part, where patrons and audience members follow some generally unspoken but widely understood protocol. For instance, celebrants, hosts and honored guests go to the stage (to dance and be praised) first; when one has finished spraying or the band has started singing about someone else, its time to move-on; don't interfere with the show or molest the artist or their band.
As I mentioned above, what looked like a "lot of money" to audience members, was not all that much to this band, who are often sprayed in excess of $10K on an average night and much more on a good night. They can enjoy this without leaving the comforts of home for nights in a cheap hotel and long days on a bus. The Nigerians who came to spray in the US shows were, in large part, not the same people (that is, Nigeria’s elite and upper class) who would find themselves with the opportunity to do so back home, and apparently many people grabbed, pinched, fondled and otherwise molested the artist in ways he was VERY unhappy with (a nod to his good showmanship for keeping a smile on his face while on stage). Others, as Bill mentioned, mounted the stage and refused to leave, grandstanding, disrupting the show and generally exhibiting bad manners in a way which they could not get away with at home in Nigeria.
Believe it or not, the band wanted to drop the praise singing/spraying component of the shows after about the 3rd night. But since we had so heavily focused the media on our traditional Nigerian night party concept, and Dmitri & RockPaperScissors had done such a good job selling that angle, we felt there was an expectation we could not back away from. So we all agreed that we would be best to tough it out and continue to present a regular show followed by a more traditional praise singing portion of the show.
So what did we learn? Well, its not so easy to re-create the traditional, a little organic spraying at an African show is a nice way for the band to gather some pocket money, and a good way for their home audience (and well informed fans) to participate. But trying to actually "create" a traditional context . . . . . well it was a nice idea, but I think it lacked some essential innocence and all the magical organic elements which allow these things to just unfold naturally back home.
Even though praise singing and spraying in Nigeria are about the display of public prestige, there is an innocence to them. People are out celebrating with their friends, and they really do get carried away by the music, the words, and the moment. The spraying becomes an expression of that jubilation, not to mention the fact that a good deal of spraying in the Yoruba context is directed between friends and celebrants and not just in one direction towards the band. . . Its like money flying everywhere, trickle down, trickle up, trickle across. . . . . . social democracy in action.
Information on King Sunny Ade, Nigerian Praise Singing and Spraying.