The career of ‘Admiral’ Dele Abiodun – born 1948 in Bendel StateNigeria – stratches back to the late sixties. Resisting his parents’ plans for a career in medicine, Dele Abiodun used his school fees to enrol at the Young Pioneers School of Music in Accra, Ghana. Here he immersed himself in highlife music, playing bass in several bands, before returning to Nigeria in 1969 and basing himself in Lagos.
There he founded his own band, Sweet Abby And The Tophitters, who played Ghanaian-style highlife. Gradually Abiodun developed his music by incorporating juju and afrobeat elements into an entirely unique ‘ modern juju sound’, which he called Adawa (translated as ‘independent being’). The new style immediately attracted a large audience throughout Nigeria, and Abiodun has adhered to it, with occasional modifications, throughout his career. It was very special that as a non-Yoruba, he managed to become one of the most successful Juju band leaders. Eschewing the established juju practice of releasing four or five albums a year, Abiodun chose to release just one album a year, free of the sponsorship of local dignitaries and politicians. As a result, he has never achieved the superstardom of his peers King Sunny Ade or Ebenezer Obey, but has built up a loyal following and maintained substantial record sales throughout the ensuing decades. During the 1970s he released three singles, two EP’s and over 20 LPs on the Olumo label. Abiodun made use of ‘Hawaiian steel guitar and claims to have been the first to introduce the instrument to juju music. A tour of the UK in 1974 helped establish his international reputation.
♫ Audio 1975: Dele Abiodun (ORPS 21 Side A) – Adwawa Super Sound 19:30
Around 1980 his career hit a dead end after a large part of his band abandoned him. Challenged by this setback, Abiodun formed an almost entirely new band and decided on a radical overhaul of his sound. He included more western elements such as electroclaps and drum machines, while also deepening the African base of his music with an expanded drum and percussion section. The new approach was introduced with 1984’s It’s Time For Juju Music and came to maturity with the following year’s Confrontation, which was released internationally on the British Shanachie label.
♫ Audio 1984: Dele Abiodun (ASLP 05 Side A) – It’s time for juju music 10:43
♫ Audio 1985: Dele Abiodun (ASLP 006) – Oro Ayo / Oloju (Come & Do) 9:35
Abiodun continued to release an album annually until the
early 1990s, but then his production stopped. However, he has always continued
to perform and even today, in his seventies, he is not afraid of live shows
lasting several hours. And…. in 2020, to many a surprise, he released a new
album after many years, titled ‘God’s grace’. Hopefully, this will not be the
only album and more will follow in the years to come.