Sunny Ade: Nigeria’s Music Legend Clocks 70

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President Muhammadu Buhari and other eminent Nigerians congratulated Nigeria’s music legend, Sunny Ade as he celebrated his 70th birthday anniversary, writes Peter Uzoho

Among Nigerians, Africans and music lovers across the globe, Sunday Adeniyi, popularly called King Sunny Ade, is a name that rings a bell and evokes feelings. Sunny Ade means different things to many people. Some would prefer to address him as ‘King of Juju music’. Others would call him ‘Minister of Enjoyment’. Sunny Ade is a Nigerian musician who uniquely garnished music with culture and comical presentations.

Whenever on stage to perform, his exceptional talent and skills are brought to fore. Sunny Ade is one musician who would never disappoint his fans, as fans would always depart from his shows happy and satisfied. He combines singing with dancing. Sunny Ade’s ingenuity in the handling of guitar and other musical instruments gives him an edge over his contemporaries in the music industry. Apart from singing and dancing, Ade also writes songs and this makes his lyrics stand out and stand the test of time.

To remember and honour this music icon, eminent Nigerians sent congratulation messages to Sunny Ade as he clocked 70 years on 22 September 2016. President Buhari in a statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, congratulated the King of Music, Sunny Ade for the impact he made in his music career.

The statement reads: “President Buhari joins friends, family and fans of the multi-talented instrumentalist, songwriter and dancer in celebrating his remarkable life. “The Septuagenarian had over the years brought pride to his country by mastering his art against all odds, taking the African musical genre to the global stage.

“Buhari also commended KSA for not only bringing joy to many hearts and homes through his music, but for serving as an inspiration and a mentor to upcoming artistes. The President saluted ‘King Sunny Ade’s love for humanity, especially the less-privileged, by setting up a foundation that caters for the needs of others and I pray that Almighty God would grant the versatile entertainer longer life, good health and more strength.”

On his part, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar said, “From 1960s to date Sunny Ade’s music will always be timeless. I wish the king many happy returns as he turns 70 yesterday”.

King Sunny Ade was born on 22 September 1946, in Osogbo, Osun State, to a Nigerian royal family of Ondo State. His father was a church organist, while his mother was a trader. Ade left grammar school in Ondo, under the pretense of going to the University of Lagos. There, in Lagos, his mercurial musical career started.

Sunny Ade’s musical sound has evolved from the early days. His career began with Moses Olaiya’s Federal Rhythm Dandies, a highlife band. He left to form a new band, The Green Spots, in 1967. Over the years, for various reasons ranging from changes in his music to business concerns, Sunny Ade’s band changed its name several times, first to African Beats and then to Golden Mercury.

In the 1970s and 1980s Sunny Ade embarked on a tour of America and Europe. His stage act was characterised by dexterous dancing steps and mastery of the guitar.

After more than a decade of resounding success in his native Nigeria,

Suunny Ade was received to great acclaim in Europe and North America in 1982. His fans unanimously embraced the global release of Juju Music and its accompanying tour. Sunny Ade was described in The New York

Times as “one of the world’s great band leaders”, in Record as “a breath of fresh air, a positive vibration we will feel for some time to come” and in Trouser Press as “one of the most captivating and important musical artistes anywhere in the world”.

His next album, Syncro System (1983), was equally successful and earned him his first Grammy Award nomination in the folk/ethnic music category.

Sunny Adé’s music is characterised by, among other instruments, the talking drum – an instrument indigenous to his Yoruba roots, the guitar and his peculiar application to Juju music that would easily put him in the same class as guitar musicians like Santana. His music is in the age-old tradition of singing poetic lyrics (“ewi” in Yoruba) and praise of dignitaries as well components of Juju (traditional

African belief) called the Ogede (casting a spell). Hence, Sunny Ade music constitutes a record of the oral tradition of his people for posterity.

Sunny Ade introduced the pedal steel guitar to Nigerian pop music. He introduced the use of synthesisers, clavinet, vibraphone, tenor guitar into the juju music repertoire such as dub and wah-wah guitar licks.

Sunny Ade said he used these instruments not as an attempt to innovate, but as a substitute for traditional juju instruments which were too difficult to find and/or impractical for touring. The pedal steel guitar, for instance, was added to his repertoire as a sound-alike for an African violin. After the death of Bob Marley, Island Records began looking for another third world artiste to put on its contract, while Arista Records had just signed Fela Kuti. Producer Martin Meissonier introduced King Sunny Ade to Chris Blackwell, leading to the release of Juju Music in 1982. Robert Palmer claims to have brought King Sunny Ade to Island’s attention, his familiarity being from his life on Malta in the 60s listening to African Radio and Armed Forces Radio. Adé gained a wide following with this album and was soon billed as “the African Bob Marley”.

Sunny Ade has said that his refusal to allow Island to meddle with his compositions and over-europeanise and americanise his music were the reasons why Island then decided to look elsewhere. Sunny Ade has collaborated with major artistes such as Manu Dibango (Wakafrika) and Wonder Stevie Wonder (played harmonica in Aura), as well as younger Nigerian artists such as Wasiu Alabi Pasuma and Bob Abimbola. Sunny Ade’s brief recordings with Island Records opened the floodgates for other world music artists like Senegalese Youssou N’Dour, Mali’s Salif Keita and many others. In 1987, Sunny Ade returned to the international spotlight when Rykodisc released a live concert he did in Seattle and was given an astonishing embrace by fans across the globe who was eager for another international album release. He soon employed an American manager,

Andrew Frankel, who negotiated another three album record deal with the Mesa record label (a division of Paradise Group) in America. One of these albums was 1988’s Odu, a collection of traditional Yoruba songs, for which he was nominated for the second Grammy Award and thus making him the first African to be nominated twice for a Grammy. Apart from being an international musician Sunny Ade is also prominent in his native Nigeria, running multiple companies in several industries, creating a non-profit organisation called the King Sunny Ade Foundation, and working with the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria.

In recent times, hip-hop music appears to be holding sway with the electronic media in Nigeria with massive airplays. Nonetheless, Sunny Ade’s musical output has continued to inspire a vast generation of other Nigerian musicians, who believe in the big band musical set up which Sunny Ade and late Fela Kuti are noted for. The musician Lagbaja is one of the very many musicians whom Sunny Ade’s music has inspired.

In 2008, his contributions to world music was recognized; as he was given an award for his outstanding contribution to world music at the International Reggae and World Music Award held at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York.

In the 1980s Sunny Ade embarked on a career in Hollywood. His music was featured in the 1983 film Breathless starring Richard Gere, and the 1986 comedy One More Saturday Night and he acted in Robert Altman’s 1987 comedy O.C. and Stiggs. At the beginning of another round of tour of the United States and Canada, Sunny Ade, now known as The Chairman, was appointed a visiting professor of music at the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife In July the same year King Sunny Ade was inducted into the Afropop Hall of Fame, at the Brooklyn African Festival in the United States. He dedicated the award to late Michael Jackson.