King Sunny Ade: An Innovative Musical Superstar

By Goke Ilesanmi

He attracts royal attention and commands kingly respect wherever he goes because he has passionately realised, utilised and maximised the elasticity of his musical talent. In short, every lover of artistic creativity cherishes his tremendous success, which he has achieved through inexplicable passion, incredible perseverance, adventurous path-finding, sheer hardwork and unrivalled professional dexterity.

He towers above his contemporaries as a real superstar that he is. Even though he has a natural honour of royalty and nobility by birth as a prince, he has been able to take a commendable shortcut to kingly coronation well ahead of time through rare musical wizardry. But the genesis of his pathway to the enviable revelation of musical success was very rough and thorny. His name is Prince Sunday Adeniyi Adegeye popularly called King Sunny Ade.

His Background 

This prototype of exceptional musical prowess was born in Ondo, Ondo town, State on Sunday, 22 September 1946 to the family of Prince Samuel Adeniyi Adegeye and Princess Mariam Adegeye.  At the age of five, he was taken to Osogbo, Osun State to prevent fulfilment of a prophetic revelation proclaiming great danger to his life.

“Most regrettably, however, my father died a year later and my mother was saddled with the burden of bringing up the children from her petty trade business. I veered into music as an adventurous youth at a time when musicians and entertainers were generally perceived by the society as never-do-wells,”  discloses this musical icon.

Sunny says as a prince, his early ambition in life was to become a medical doctor which was typical of kids of good parental background and family pride like his. But he later abandoned the dream for musical passion.

Challenges and Reaction

Given that he had lost his father at a very tender age, life was very challenging to him them, especially that his mother was a petty trader. But despite challenges, Sunny was able to exploit the situation positively by turning challenges to channels of opportunities. As he puts it, “Having to live the rest of my life without the able support and guidance of my dear father strengthened my resolve to make it in life. It was like I saw myself as the pillar of the family very early in life, particularly in 1954, when I was being registered into school.”

Forming His Own Band

Foresight, they say, is one of the trademarks of successful people. To underscore this assertion, Sunny had already been a full-time member of the band of Idowu Owoeye as a student of St. Charles Grammar School, Osogbo. The band’s outing in Abeokuta, on the occasion of the coronation of Oba Gbadebo as the new Alake of Egba land in 1963marked the turning point in Sunny’s journey towards becoming a professional musician.

He says they could not make enough money at the occasion, especially that they were not officially invited, so they got stranded in Abeokuta for more than three weeks. This musical icon with magnificent dance skills submits, “The lorry we hired left us in the town since we were unable to pay him. It was a terrible experience. During this period, one of us, the late brother Ayo Oyeleye told me his intention to go to Lagos and join Moses Olaiya’s band. He actually lured me to follow him.”

Next Action

Sunny left for Lagos to join Olaiya’s group with the hope of raising sufficient money to return to his family at Osogbo. But the lure of music and comfort from Olaiya, the leader of the group, prompted him (Sunny) to finally decide to join the group, especially given the way he (Olaiya) treated him like his own son. He later sent a message to his worried family members back home that he had been enrolled in school in Lagos, just to assuage their apprehension.

“As an apprentice musician in Moses Olaiya’s band, I had indeed exploited every opportunity and a great deal of access to instruments. With little or virtually no pastime, I had music as the only thing in my head. I thought of music everytime. I got hooked, completely hooked to music,” this enigmatic maestro of Juju music stresses.

Success Factors

It is a truism that those who fail to plan are simply planning to fail. And without solid foundation, success may be so elusive. On what made Sunny’s instrumental skills so distinct, he reveals that at the time of his apprenticeship, he was always practising how to play the guitar. His dexterity in playing guitar has undoubtedly made him to be regarded as a master guitarist. It is not surprising, therefore, that he was rated the 68th guitarist in the world, among both living and dead in the 1996 edition of Mojo magazine, published in Great Britain.

Through dint of sheer hardwork and enviable professional mastery, Sunny soon became the leader of Moses Olaiya’s band despite his young age. This enthusiastic, pragmatic and prolific musical star says his very rich talent eventually endeared him to Chief Tunde Amuwo, the leader of the High Society Band and a close friend of Olaiya.  Sunny was granted an initial mandate to assemble his own group within three months.

And with the musical instruments made available to him by Chief Amuwo, his sponsor, he set out as the band leader of Sunny Adex and His High Society Band in 1966. The band later transformed  into Sunny Ade and His Green Spot band and then, Sunny Ade and His Golden Mercury of Africa and finally to King Sunny Ade and His African Beat.”

Creating Musical Brand and Identity

He says forming a band was much easier for him than creating a music identity for the band as a Juju musician, especially that at that time, you would not be recognised as a musician if you were not playing I.K Dairo’s style. Sunny discloses that even his boss, Olaiya was playing the style.

“So with the I.K. Dairo style, it was necessary that someone should come out with something different. This was a difficult task for me because I also loved and adorned I.K. Dairo. It was also a difficult task to come out with an identity. About four great artistes like Dele Ojo, Nightingale, Ojoge Daniel in addition to I.K. Dairo were solidly on ground with their identities, which their unique styles had created for them,” reflects this musical icon.

There is always a place at the top for pacesetters and the people with great determination. In a bid to achieve differentiation and branding for his style of music, he came out with a modified style of the Tunde Nightingale type of Juju and achieved this feat through the application of the Open guitar chord system which a musician friend from Ibadan taught him to play when he started his band.

Sunny says with a good dose of satisfaction, “With the open chord system, I could play anything I wanted to create out of my imagination; imagination that must fit into accustomed music standard and new rhythms. The open chord system gave me a lead ahead of others, who immediately took to the system. Since it was every sense my creation, I was jumping from one rhythm to the other, on the system, to stay ahead of them.”

Total Transformation of Juju Music  

A man of great creative reformation and artistic prowess, Sunny started musical transformation in Juju genre of music with the amplification of the talking drums, electric drums, keyboard, Hawaii guitar, gong, etc., which are now generally used  by Juju and Fuji musicians today.

This charismatic pacesetter says it was he that re-ordered the positioning style for more stagecraft because musicians used to sit to play. In his words, “I raised the standard of Juju to its present internationally acceptable level by procuring world-acclaimed modern instruments and introduced stage setting among others.”

To accord Juju global acclaim, this well- travelled pathfinder endowed with rare magnetic personality went on his first overseas tour in 1970. He got the desired breakthrough in the international music arena in 1983 when he was signed on by Island Records, after the death of the legendary reggae star, Bob Nesta Marley. Thereafter, performing at big global musical concerts became regular for Sunny who was organising a massive world tour to promote his music every year.

His Works

Having prepared enough ground for wide accepatibility through peak musical performances, Sunny  hit the musical world with his debut album entitled Ala anu l’Oluwa (God is Merciful) in 1967. But it was shocking that the album became a commercial tragedy and loss. However, this symbol of exemplary resilience sprang himself past the valley of discouragement and forged ahead with incredible determination for great musical accomplishment.

In 1968, he rejected rejection by following up with another album christened The Challenge Cup which finally soared him to the platform of acceptability and recognition. The album made in honour of the Stationery Stores Football Club for winning the African Challenge Cup for Nigeria for the first time, was released under the African Songs record label owned and managed by the late Chief Bolarinwa Abioro.

In generous harvest of his creative versatility, Sunny today has to his credit, about 150 albums, including two duet albums. This multi-talented performer has equally acted in two major home-video productions, Fopomoyo (which he jointly produced with Chief Jimoh Aliu, a veteran Yoruba actor) and Aremo Adegeye, his personal production with Abiola Atanda aka Madam Kofo.