Putting down roots (again)

A new CD and a free gig. Tony Jones on Stevie Wonder
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The Independent Culture
it's clear that Stevie Wonder, who visits London next week, now works entirely to a rhythm of his own. His status as a Motown legend and his power within that record label have removed him almost entirely from the patterns in which the rest of the music industry does its business. Essentially, Wonder budges when he feels like it.

Consider the new album he's promoting, Conversation Peace, for release at the end of March. Wonder began building up this record in the far-off mists of 1987. In between, bafflingly, he whipped up a soundtrack album for the Spike Lee movie Jungle Fever, claiming the 11 songs he contributed took him only a fortnight to put together. His people at Motown - the ones looking to yield the maximum from this eminently bankable asset - must, just occasionally stare up at the ceiling, grit their teeth and scream.

It's not entirely smooth sailing being a Wonder fan, either. You endure the life-eroding gaps between releases and then discover that the album you have waited for mixes a couple of unimaginably catchy tunes and beats with some desperate leaps into a deep and sticky pool of sentimentality. (How do you begin to measure the distance from "Superstition" to "Ebony and Ivory"?)

Reassuringly, Conversation Peace is probably Wonder's most vital album since Hotter than July in 1980. Motown are talking about it as an album that will put Wonder up among the Johnny-come-latelys who currently bank the top dollars. (The big earners at Motown right now are Boyz II Men, the close-harmony quartet whose second album, II, has already outsold, in America, the Wonder classic Songs in the Key of Life. )

Typically, Wonder has his own plans. He has begun to ponder a possible move to Ghana. It's not the first time he has considered emigrating from LA, but this time the claim seems particularly plausible - and not just because, these days, brightly patterned African robes are Wonder's daywear. Wonder has been funding reading machines for the blind in Ghana and was recently rewarded by a Ghanaian chief with some land, which he is now thinking of building on.

Wonder faces another kind of cultural transplant next Thursday morning - an interview with Radio 1's Simon Mayo. This is scheduled to take place at Ronnie Scott's Club, with Wonder making occasional digressions on the piano - a chat-and-sing routine which he has pulled off divertingly in the past with presenters as diverse as Tom Jones and Terry Wogan.

metro has five pairs of tickets to give away for this exclusive Radio 1FM event. To win, send in your answer to the question below on a postcard with your name and daytime telephone number clearly marked

Q: Name the Eurythmics hit to which Wonder contributed a harmonica solo in 1985

Answers to: Metro Wonder, PO Box 6869, London E14 5BS. Winners will be contacted by Wednesday morning at the latest

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