IT is fitting that the Nigerian entertainment industry and connoisseurs of Juju music in Nigeria and around the world have risen in unison to honour and celebrate King Sunny Ade (born Sunday Adeniyi Adegeye), who turned 70 on September 22nd. King Sunny Ade is without doubt one of the two inimitable maestros of Juju music over the past half-a-century. The other is 74-year-old Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey. Together, whether as collaborators or competitors, but always as mutually regarding friends, both Sunny and Obey created and nurtured a genre of Yoruba dance music that aficionados agree has every right to be labeled a global music.
Although he was born into an Ondo royal family, an ambitious Sunday Adegeye did not wait for the silver-ware to be handed to him. Perhaps he realized very early that musical talent is not genetically inherited, and that in life, there is no royal road to achievement. Thus, and similar to all successful artistes across history, he had to make his way to the apex of the musical ladder through sheer guts and grind. There was a formative period of highlife apprenticeship under Moses Olaiya’s (the comedian better known as Baba Sala) Federal Rhythm Dandies, followed by the momentous decision to establish his own Green Spots band in 1967.
After an initial period of turbulence and uncertainty, he eventually found his own style, upon which recognition- popular and artistic- followed. Aesthetically, Sunny Ade had to define himself against the prevailing highlife zeitgeist, founding a distinctive guitar-based style that managed to be rhythmic and soulful without being kitsch. Sunny Ade’s Juju music was firmly rooted in Yoruba metaphysics, and Sunny himself seems to have taken a particular liking to Ogun, the Yoruba god of iron, to whom one of his most poetically invocative songs is dedicated.
For Sunny, local recognition was a precursor to global adulation. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, King Sunny Ade and his band were the toast of music lovers across Europe and the United States, andin 1983, he won his first Grammy Awards nomination for the album Syncro System, a sensuous dance number in which Sunny’s mellifluous voice throbbed with earthy sexuality.
As is normally the case with every artiste who personifies and transcends a genre, Sunny Ade is today more than a musician. With his two egin beautification marks he is one of the most easily recognizable Nigerians alive. He is an inspiration to thousands of young people, both within and outside the music industry; a willing collaborator, a cheerful giver, and the very embodiment of a great Nigerian.
A recurrent theme in discussions of the music and personality of King Sunny Ade is the reason for his amazing tenacity. Arguably the most important factor is his artistic adaptability and openness to new ideas. For Sunny, no musical instrument- be it clarinet or vibraphone- was beyond incorporation into the juju percussive ensemble. The result is a musical career in which, reminiscent of the supreme trumpeter Miles Davis’, King Sunny Ade was always one step ahead of the field, and no sooner did listeners adjust to a new style than Sunny went in a completely new direction.
Creatively restless, he never settled for the tried and tested, but always sought, again like Davis, to play ‘what is not there’. Members of the younger generation have a lot to learn from King Sunny Ade’s glittering career. His aesthetic daring for one. But also his overall omoluabi.
We wish this true son of Nigeria a happy birthday and many happy returns. Igba odun, odun kan.