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Musician of the Week: King Sunny Ade

29 July 2016 at 04:54 | 1904 views

"King" Sunny Adé (born Sunday Adeniyi, September 22, 1946) is a popular performer of Yoruba Nigerian jůjú music and a pioneer of modern world music. He has been classed as one of the most influential musicians of all time.

Adé was born to a Nigerian royal family in Ondo, thus making him an Omoba of the Yoruba people. His father was a church organist, while his mother was a trader. Adé left grammar school in Ondo under the pretense of going to the University of Lagos. There, in Lagos, his mercurial musical career started.

Sunny Adé’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 The Green Spots in 1967. Over the years, for various reasons ranging from changes in his music to business concerns, Sunny Adé’s band changed its name several times, first to African Beats and then to Golden Mercury.
Stage performances

In the 1970s and 1980s Sunny embarked on a tour of America and Europe where Adé played to mixed (both Black and White) audiences. His stage act was characterised by dexterous dancing steps and mastery of the guitar. Trey Anastasio, American guitarist, composer and one of his devout followers, once said,

"If you come to see Sunny Adé live, you must be prepared to groove all night."

When Adé headlined concerts in the United States, The New York Times’s Robert Palmer described one of Adé’s several concerts in New York in the 1980s one of the most significant pop music events of the decade and Adé as "one of the world’s great band leaders". His second album under the cusp of international stardom was Synchro System which attracted many converts of world music and earned him a Grammy 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 jůjú 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, Adé’s music constitutes a record of the oral tradition of his people for posterity.

Sunny Adé was the first to introduce the pedal steel guitar to Nigerian pop music. He was the first to introduce the use of synthesizers, clavinet, vibraphone, tenor guitar into the jůjú music repertoire such as dub and wah-wah guitar licks.

After the death of Bob Marley, Island Records began looking for another third world artist to put on its contract, while Fela Kuti had just been signed by Arista Records. Producer Martin Meissonnier introduced King Sunny Adé to Chris Blackwell, leading to the release of Juju Music in 1982. Many music aficionados are quick to point out that Sunny Adé’s brand music of Juju could not be ignored by anyone at the time,. Today, this seminal recording is often acclaimed as one of the most important records from Africa. Adé gained a wide following with this album and was soon billed as "the African Bob Marley".

Sunny Adé has said in the past 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 has collaborated with major artists such as Manu Dibango (WAKAFRIKA) and Stevie Wonder (played harmonica in Aura).

Sunny Adé’s brief recordings with Island records opened the floodgates for other world music artist like Senegalese Youssou N’Dour, Mali’s Salif Keita and a host of others.

In 1987, Sunny Adé returned to international spotlight when Rykodisc released a live concert he did in Seattle and was given an astonishing embrace by fans across the globe who were eager for another international album release.

He soon employed an American manager, Andrew Frankel, negotiated another three album record deal with the Mesa record label (a Division of Paradise Group) in America. One of these albums was 1998’s Odu, a collection of traditional Yoruba songs, with 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 Adé is also prominent in his native Nigeria, running multiple companies in several industries, creating a non-profit organization called the King Sunny Adé 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 Adé’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 Adé and late Fela Kuti are noted for. The musician, Lagbaja is one of the very many musicians Sunny Adé’s music has inspired. In 2008, his contributions to world music was recognised; as he was given an award for his outstanding contribution to world music at the Reggae and world music awards held at the Appollo Theater in Harlem, New York.

In the 1980s Adé 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 Adé, now known as The Chairman in his home country, was appointed a visiting professor of Music at the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife. In July the same year King Sunny Adé was inducted into the Afropop Hall of Fame, at the Brooklyn African Festival U.S.A. He dedicated the award to Michael Jackson.

Here is a documentary on King Sunny Ade:

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