King Sunny Ade



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For more than three decades, King Sunny Ade and his African Beats have been thrilling audiences worldwide with their extraordinary music. The Nigerian singer, guitarist, bandleader, and entrepreneur is the acknowledged master of juju, a cross-cultural sound that sends listeners on a remarkable journey into the heart of one of Africa’s most vital cultures. His music draws from the many idioms and forms of the Yoruba language, and imbues it with a modern sense of spirituality, politics and honor. 

King Sunny’s new release “Seven Degrees North” is a spiritually uplifting soundtrack to the democracy movement of Sub-Saharan Africa's largest city, Lagos, Nigeria.  The music takes on many issues: from those that express in simple praise, the Lord's good works, to those that delve deep into the Yoruba world of proverbs and metaphor to deliver a deeper message about freedom and hope.

Juju is a thrilling hybrid of Western pop and traditional African music that incorporates electric guitars and synthesizers with such indigenous instruments as talking drums. Lyrically, juju is rooted in the Yoruba tradition of conveying broad social and cultural messages through archetypal proverbs and parables. A remarkably convivial music, juju has at its heart a dynamic and interactive nature that incorporates a plenitude of grooves, call-and-response choruses and polyrhythmic breaks. Multiple lead guitars, harmonic counter-melodies, and shimmering waves of multi-layered percussion blend with sonic surprises — such as reggae and dub sound system effects or the lilting pedal steel guitars of American country & western — that traverse the boundaries of culture and genre.

King Sunny began his extensive career as a member of Moses Olaiya’s Federal Rhythm Dandies then later became the bandleader with the Green Spots. Though he has released more than 100 records in Nigeria, King Sunny first became known in the U.S. after a critically acclaimed three-record run on Island Records in the 1980s. Since then, he and his African Beats have become a leading light in bringing African pop to the West.  Recognized as the ambassador of juju, King Sunny has been called “the titan who dominates juju music” by the Village Voice.  His last release "Odu" was nominated for a Grammy Award for 1998's "Best World Music Album".  In 1995, KSA signed up with Mesa/Atlantic and released the acclaimed “E DIDE/GET UP,” the King’s first American studio album in over a decade.

A great many musicians talk about giving back to the community, but few have contributed as generously as King Sunny. He is known to many at home as ‘the Chairman,’ an appellation he earned due to his top role in numerous and diverse businesses. A sort of capitalist-cum-philanthropist, King Sunny has channeled the monies earned as a music superstar into holdings in a multitude of companies, including an oil firm, a mining company, a nightclub, a film and video production house, record labels (for African artists who cross a musical spectrum that includes highlife, folklore, reggae, juju, and jazz), pressing plants, even a PR firm. Ultimately, it appears King Sunny’s greatest investment is in the lives of others. The Chairman estimates that over 700 people work for him in one way or another, with 200 of them directly employed in music.

Recently elected as president of the Performing Musician’s Association of Nigeria, King Sunny continues to be a leading advocate for musician’s rights.  He has put forth the first ever Musician’s Bill of Rights for ratification. This bill recognizes the basic rights of musicians, their creative work, and their right to earn a decent living. If all that weren’t enough to occupy most of his time, KSA also chairs the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria, an organization whose mandate is to halt the rampant record piracy that plagues Africa and to protect the intellectual property and international trade rights of his fellow musicians.

In his continuing efforts to support African music, Sunny has also established the King Sunny Ade Foundation, which the Chairman founded with local civic and business leaders. The Foundation, which is situated on five hectares of land donated by the Lagos State Government, includes a performing arts center, a fully-equipped recording studio and housing for young performers and musicians, and offers financial assistance to both the children of dead musicians as well to elderly musicians who can no longer perform.

“The motive behind the Foundation is to see the underprivileged people of different areas, different professions, benefit from my success,” says King Sunny. “Those who want to be musicians, those who want to study music, those who want to study acting, they can all be part of the King Sunny Ade Foundation. Even those who are old, who can no longer do certain things, they are part of it.

“I think it is better for me to do this while I’m still alive,” the Chairman continues. “Most foundations are established after the death of the founder. I want to see it work. I just want the King Sunny Ade Foundation to remain, to be immortal, and if God permits, I will continue to do it.”

A longtime supporter of Nigerian political unity, in 1996, King Sunny created an eclectic African supergroup to record the song, “The Way Forward.” KSA brought together a number of different Nigerian stars from differing ethnic backgrounds to address the continuing problem of Africa’s cultural dissents.

“A friend and I co-wrote the song with the idea of getting different musicians from different traditions together,” KSA says. “I play with so many different people around the whole world, I began thinking, ‘What would be my contribution to my country?’ The politics of Nigeria are so bitter, which I try not to involve into my music, but no matter what you do, as an artist, your contribution is to tell the people to be proud that this is our country. So I thought it would be good for Nigeria’s musicians to come together to make ‘The Way Forward.’ It doesn’t have to do with the government, it has to do with the people. The people have to know this is our country, and only together can we make it work.”

“Whatever you do in life, you have to find time to enjoy yourself,” King Sunny explains, “because no matter what you do, no matter how much money you have, no matter how good a person you may be, tomorrow somebody else will come and you are going to be part of history. So what I preach is what you need to do is to do good, so you leave a legacy behind you. If you truly love your neighbor as you love yourself, that will continue when you’re gone.”

King Sunny Ade and his band appeared at The Temple Bar Music Centre Dublin in April 2005 as part of a FeileAfrica/Guinness Foreign Extra special event. We hope to have them back here in 2006 as part of a wider tour.

Hear Audio & Buy CDs


See also:
Wrasse Records
Interview with King Sunny

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Last modified: 02/23/11