Skip to main content
Select Source:

Adé, King Sunny

King Sunny Adé

Singer, guitarist

Defied Parents to Play Music

Became Worldwide Phenomenon

International Appeal Faltered

Selected discography


Ordained the King of Juju Music in the late 1970s by a group of journalists and music critics, King Sunny Adé has been a major musical force in his native Nigeria since the mid-1960s and an international star since the early 1980s. His style of jujuwhich is primarily a form of praise music sung in a local Nigerian Yoruba language that merges guitars with percussion in a lively styleis a so-called synchro style that utilizes synthesizers and other electronics technology, including computers.

Adé was greatly influenced by the So wa mbe style of juju pioneered by Tunde Nightingale and is one of jujus great innovators, according to Jon Pareles in the New York Times. Noting Adés dynamic stage presence and versatility as a singer, Pareles also stated, Mr. Adé, whose unruffled tenor is one of rocks kindliest voices, will pick up a melody above the velvety harmonies of the backup singers, or smilingly trade call-and-response dialogues with them, or take his turn in friendly dance competitionswhile a drummer encourages him with improvisations.

Adé is noted for opening up juju music to listeners the world over. As Chris Stapleton and Chris May wrote in African Rock, in Europe and North America he has been responsible for taking juju out of its small cult following and nudging it, slowly but surely, toward the mainstream album market. Pareles pointed out that Adé elevated juju from street music played by a few instruments into a big-band style that can shimmer and crackle.

Defied Parents to Play Music

While growing up, Adé spent much of his time in the arts center of Oshogbo in the Ondo State of Nigeria. He became musically active as a teenager, playing drums with juju bands fronted by Sunday Ariyo and Idowu Owoeye. The son of a Methodist minister, he greatly disappointed his parents by quitting college in 1963 to pursue his musical interests full-time. His family was of royal lineage and frowned upon music as a low-caste pursuit. At first Adé joined a traveling musical comedy troupe, but by 1964 he was playing lead guitar in Moses Olaiya Adejumos Federal Rhythm Dandies. After also playing briefly with Tunde Nightingale, he decided in 1965 to form his own group, Sunny Adé and His High Society Band. The next year he changed his groups name to the Green Spots, presumably a playful reference to I. K. Dairos Blue Spots, a legendary juju band from the 1950s. The Green Spots played a speedy but relaxed style of juju characterized by tight vocal harmonies and deliciously melodic guitar work, according to the Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music.

For the Record

Born Sunday Adeniyi, on September 1, 1946, in Oshogbo, Nigeria; 12 children.

Part-time percussionist with Sunday Ariyos and Idowu Owoeyes juju bands, 1958-63; dropped out of school to play full-time with local juju bands, 1963; played guitar with Moses Olaiya Adejumo and Tunde Nightingale, mid-1960s; formed own group, Sunny Adé and His High Society Band, 1965; changed his bands name to the Green Spots, 1966; released first single, Challenge Cup, 1967; changed name of his group to the African Beats, late 1960s; established his own record label, Sunny Alade Records, 1975; opened up juju nightclub in Lagos, Nigeria, mid-1970s; performed three-month tour in England, 1975; signed contract with Island Records, 1982; formed new band, Golden Mercury, after salary disputes with original band members; has released over 40 albums, plus many singles and EPs.

Addresses: Home Nigeria. Record company Mesa/Blue Moon Records (Distributed in United States by Rhino Records), 209 East Almeda, #101, Burbank, CA 91502.

It didnt take long for Adé to become a mega-star in his country. His first single with the Green Spots, Challenge Cup, concerned a local soccer team championship and became a major hit in 1967 with sales of over 500,000 copies. His first album, Alanu Loluwa, was released the same year on the African Songs label. Renaming his group the African Beats in the late 1960s, Adé began steadily releasing albums that typically sold over 200,000 copies each in Nigeria, with many of the sales coming from bootlegged versions. His group released some 12 albums from 1967 to 1974 and was in constant demand as a live act, often performing with 20 to 30 members on stage.

After contract disputes with African Songs, Adé decided to create his own label in 1975. Called Sunny Alade Records, the company was linked to the Decca label in England. Around that time he also opened the Ariya, his own juju nightclub in Lagos, which became the main performance venue for the African Beats when the group wasnt on tour. He took his group out of the country in 1975 for a three-month tour of England, playing mostly to expatriate Nigerian audiences at small halls and community centers during cultural theme nights.

Throughout the 1970s, Adé built his reputation as an innovator in juju music. In 1976 he added a steel guitar to his instrumental mix, and he frequently experimented with new beats and guitar styles. By the end of the decade he was one of the three top names in juju, along with Ebenezer Obey and Dele Abiodun.

Became Worldwide Phenomenon

Hoping to capitalize on growing interest in African music in the United Kingdom, Adé started his African Series of releases with the Sound dAfrique compilation albumin 1981. His plans agreed with those of Englands Island Records, which was eager to find a replacement for the tropical music of Bob Marley, who had died in 1980. Island Records signed Adé to a contract in 1982 for releases in Europe and North America. Adé responded with the highly acclaimed Juju Music, which made the hit charts in the United States. With his album supported by extensive promotion and media exposure, Adé became a worldwide phenomenon and was in constant demand for performances. [Adés] guitar line-up, weaving intricate melodic patterns against a background of thundering percussion, the call-and-response conversations of the talking drums and the infectiously winning, African-prince style of the man himselfall gave off strong commercial signals, noted World Music.

Adé confirmed his ability to transcend cultural barriers in a concert at Londons Lyceum Ballroom in January of 1983. Stapleton and Mays discussion of this concert confirmed Adés new international star status: Raved over without exception by the weekly music press, many of whose critics hailed Adé as one of the emergent dance-music stars of the year, Adé and his band played to a hugely enthusiastic multi-ethnic audience, proving thatin a live context at any ratejujus use of Yoruba rather than English-language lyrics was no barrier to overseas acceptance.

International Appeal Faltered

The popularity of Juju Music, as well as Adés next album, Synchro System, was due in large part to French producer Martin Meissonnier. Meissonnier helped to expand Adés appeal by bringing in synthesizers and Linn drums without negating the musics roots in traditional Yoruba music or making the songs unpalatable to long-time Nigerian fans. However, Islands expectations were high, since the company was looking for someone with the mass appeal of Bob Marley. Sunny Adés Yoruba lyrics and complex rhythms were less readily accessible than the English lyrics and regular rhythms of the reggae greats he was supposed to replace, noted World Music. When sales trailed off for Aura, Adés third album with Island, the label dropped his contract. Bad news continued from that point for Adé, whose musicians began making demands for salary increases following triumphant tours of the United States and Japan. Adé claimed that he couldnt meet their demands because he had so many musicians and because there were limited audiences for his performances. As a result of these unresolved disputes, Adé was forced to form a new band, which he called Golden Mercury.

Perhaps bitter over his recent troubles, Adé made a thematic shift in his lyrics. Although his songs had often dealt with the myriad of social problems in Nigeria, he now began writing about rumors, jealousy, destiny, and even family planning. Some controversy arose over Wait for Me, a song he released in 1989 that urged population control and was later discovered to have been underwritten by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Office of Population. The song was particularly ironic coming from Adé, who had 12 children at the time.

Since 1974, Sunny Adé has released more than 40 albums, as well as numerous singles and EPs. After concentrating on his business affairs and not releasing any studio recordings for a decade, he released EDide (Get Up) on the Mesa label in 1995. Reviewer Frank Scheck noted in the Christian Science Monitor that the albums crisp, modern arrangements were influenced by contemporary American blues and country music and featured pedal steel guitar. This U.S. studio recording followed a 1987 tour in the Americas and a 1992 performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Today King Sunny Adé records and performs mainly in Nigeria, where he is still arguably the countrys most successful recording artist.

Selected discography

Sunny Adé Live Play, Sunny Alade, 1976.

The Message, Sunny Alade, 1981.

Ju Ju Music, Island, 1982.

Synchro System, Island, 1983.

Aura, Island, 1984.

Live Live Juju, Rykodisk, 1987.

The Return of the JuJu King, Mercury, 1988.

Live at the Hollywood Palace, I.R.S., 1994.

E Dide (Get Up), Mesa, 1995.

Also released videos Live at Montreaux, 1983, and Ju Ju, 1988.



Broughton, Simon, Mark Ellingham, David Muddyman, and Richard Trillo, World Music: The Rough Guide, Rough Guide, 1994.

The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, vol. 1, edited by Colin Larkin, Guinness, 1992.

Stapleton, Chris, and Chris May, African Rock: The Pop Music of a Continent, E.P. Dutton, 1987.


Christian Science Monitor, January 8, 1996.

Down Beat, October 1992.

New York Times, July 16, 1992.

Progressive, September 1990.


King Sunny Ade home page

Hall of Records

Ed Decker

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Adé, King Sunny." Contemporary Musicians. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Adé, King Sunny." Contemporary Musicians. . (December 16, 2017).

"Adé, King Sunny." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from

Ade, King Sunny 1946–

King Sunny Ade 1946


Tweaked Traditional African Music

Found Recording Success With island Label

Rumors of Death Exaggerated

Selected works


Probably Nigerias most popular musician, King Sunny Ade (ah-DAY) became a major force in popularizing African music in the United States with a series of tours and albums during the 1980s. A concert by King Sunny Ade and His African Beats was a dazzling, kinetic experience that introduced Western listeners to the rich complexities of African musical performance. Heading up a group of 20 to 30 musicians on stage with his vocals and electric guitar, Ade sang phrases in the Yoruba language that meshed with the large battery of traditional percussion on stage, entered into dialogues with other musicians, and joined in with the dancers who brought constant motion to the ensemble. The music Ade played was called jujua style that went back to the 1920s, but one that Ade developed further than any other musician.

Ade was born Sunday Adeniyi on September 1, 1946, in Oshogbo, Nigeria. Though descended from the royal family of Nigerias Ondo area, Ade didnt grow up in royal luxury; his father was a Methodist church organist and small-time trader, and his mother sold bean cakes in the local market. Nevertheless, his parents were high-born enough to frown on a musical career for their son, considering music a disreputable way of earning a living. Ade was drawn to music from the start, recalling in a St. Petersburg Times interview that even though he and his schoolmate had no other instrument than rocks. He left home for the Nigerian capital of Lagos when he was a teenager, telling his parents that he was enrolled at a local university.

Tweaked Traditional African Music

Instead he played guitar with several Nigerian pop groups and then formed a band of his own called Sunny Ade and His High Society Band, later changed to Sunny Ade and His Green Spots. The deception of his parents ended when they saw a copy of the bands first album, which featured a picture of Ade on the cover. That first album sold only a few dozen copies, but it was the first of well over 100 Ade recordings. Africans have unlimited rhythms, Ade told the Washington Post. In Africa everything that happens, you can bring a rhythm out of it. One of those event-based rhythms brought Ade his first commercial breakthrough as a song he wrote in 1967 to celebrate the success of a local soccer team, Challenge Cup, notched reported sales of over 500,000 copies.

At a Glance

Born Sunday Adeniyi on September 1, 1946, in Oshogbo, Nigeria; 12 children. Religion: Christian; raised Methodist.

Career: Musician and singer, 1960s; played guitar and percussion with juju bands in Lagos, Nigeria, early 1960s; Sunny Ade and His High Society Band (later Sunny Ade and His Green Spots), founder and performer, 1965-; African Songs, recording artist, 196774; changed group name to the African Beats, 1974; Sunny Alade Records, founder and recording artist, 1975; toured England, 1975; Island label, recording artist, ca. 198084; opened an oil company, a mining company, a film studio, a night club, music labels, and manufacturing plants, a PR firm, and the King Sunny Ade Foundation, Lagos, 1980s1990s; U.S. tour, 1998.

Addresses: Label V2 Records USA, 14 E. 4th St., 3rd floor, New York, NY 10012.

Even early on, Ade and his band found themselves in demand for performances, many of them at street festivals where Ade would take the stage at 8 p.m. and not quit until well past dawn of the next day. Ade changed the name of his band to the African Beats in 1974, but despite the English names of his ensembles, Ade sang mostly in the Yoruba language. By the mid-1970s Ade had grown in popularity and was wrangling with his label, African Songs. He formed his own label, Sunny Alade Records, in 1975 and took the first steps toward international popularity when he forged a distribution deal with Englands Decca label. Ade and his African Beats toured Britain, playing mostly to Nigerian immigrant audiences at first.

Soon, however, music journalists got wind of Ades sound and were impressed by its energy and by the multiplicity of influences Ade had woven into a traditional West African framework. Ades music contained hints of African-American music, of Jamaican reggae, of Western dance pop, and even of country musica characteristic feature of an African Beats performance was the prominent role assigned to the pedal steel guitar, which Ade incorporated into the band as a result of his admiration for U.S. country vocalist Jim Reeves. Around 1977 Ade had been dubbed the King of Juju.

Found Recording Success With island Label

Ade was signed around 1980 to Mango Records, a division of the Island label, which had helped propel reggae star Bob Marley to international popularity and was looking for a new sound with a similar upbeat appeal after Marleys tragically early death from cancer. His album Juju Music was released in 1982. Some industry observers wondered whether Ades Yoruba lyrics would constitute a barrier to international success, but a series of concert tours of England and the United States, beginning with a successful appearance at Londons Lyceum Ballroom in January of 1983, soon proved that Ades appeal transcended language. Juju Music cracked U.S. pop charts, a rare feat for an album of African music.

In the mid-1980s Ade and his African Beats appeared at some of the huge midsummer music festivals common in U.S. cities, impressing listeners and critics with the intricate interplay among the large number of musicians on stage. Everything was under Ades control. I like to play my guitar in a rhythmic way, he told Down Beat. I use my guitar to conduct the whole group. The 1983 follow-up to Juju Music, entitled Synchro System and produced by French studio wunderkind Martin Meissonier, introduced electronic elements to Ades sound. That album also sold well and perhaps even exceeded Juju Music in its ultimate influence, blazing the way for future fusions of traditional African and electronic rhythms.

Ade, despite his success, never reached Marleys level of popularity, and after sales tailed off with his third Mango release, Aura in 1984, he was dropped by the label. For a time Ade even experienced problems in Nigeria as his musicians, having gotten a taste of international celebrity, demanded salary hikes. In 1989 Ade stirred controversy with the song Wait for Me, which urged Nigerians to practice birth control and was sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Observers noted that Ade, with 12 children of his own, made a less-than-ideal spokesperson for the cause of population control.

Rumors of Death Exaggerated

Several times Ade was rumored to have died. Nevertheless, his position at the top of Nigerias music industry was never seriously threatened. He invested his royalties wisely and formed a variety of musical and non-musical businesses including a large Lagos nightclub, an oil company, a mining company, a film studio, music labels and manufacturing plants, a PR firm, and the King Sunny Ade Foundation, with plans to open a performing arts center and a housing complex for musicians. By 2001 Ade employed around 700 people.

Ade continued to record and to appear in the West occasionally, performing at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1992 and touring the United States in 1998. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which en-snarled many world musicians in new immigration and visa delays, stranded Ade without key musicians in Los Angeles and caused the cancellation of his tour. A planned 2003 tour was scrapped for the same reason. By that time, however, King Sunny Ade was recognized as one of the most significant African musicians of the 20th century, with a host of reissues of his African-label material attesting to continuing interest in his infinite well of rhythm.

Selected works


Challenge Cup, African Songs, 1967.

Alanu LOluwa, African Songs, 1967.

Col. Benjamin Adekunle, African Songs, 1968.

Sewele, African Songs, 1970.

Ibi Ise bari, African Songs, 1970.


Sunny Ade & His Green Spot Band, Volumes 1-6, African Songs, 1970-1974.

The Late General Murtala Mohammed, Sunny Alade, 1975.

Sound Vibration, Sunny Alade, 1977.

The Golden Mercury of Africa, Sunny Alade, 1978.

Searching for My Love, Sunny Alade, 1979.

Eje Nlogba, Sunny Alade, 1980.

Ariya Special, Sunny Alade, 1981.

Juju Music, Mango, 1982.

Synchro System, Mango, 1983.

Aura, Mango, 1984.

Live Live Ju Ju, Rykodisc, 1988.

Surprise, Sigma Park, 1992.

Glory, Sigma Park, 1993.

E Dide (Get Up), Atlantic, 1995.

Odu, Atlantic, 1998.

Seven Degrees North, V2, 2000.

The King of Juju: The Best of Sunny Ade, Wrasse, 2002.

Best of the Classic Years, Shanachie, 2003.

Synchro Series, Indigedisc, 2003.



Broughton, Simon, et al., eds., World Music: Volume 1, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East (The Rough Guide), Rough Guides, 1999.

Contemporary Musicians, volume 18, Gale, 1997.


Boston Herald, June 15, 1994, p. 47.

Down Beat, April 2001, p. 38.

New York Times, May 8, 1987, p. C22.

Ottawa Citizen, August 24, 1996, p. E5.

St. Petersburg Times, May 8, 1987, p. D1.

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), August 16, 1996, p. L7.

Toronto Star, May 8, 1987, p. D4.

Toronto Sun, June 26, 1998, p. 87.

Washington Post, July 27, 1983, p. Bl; May 25, 1987, p. C3.


King Sunny Ade, All Music Guide, (July 17, 2003).

King Sunny Ade, Lycos Music, (July 18, 2003).

James M. Manheim

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ade, King Sunny 1946–." Contemporary Black Biography. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Ade, King Sunny 1946–." Contemporary Black Biography. . (December 16, 2017).

"Ade, King Sunny 1946–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from

Adé, King Sunny


Born: Sunday Adéniy; Oshogbo, Nigeria, 1946

Genre: World

Best-selling album since 1990: Odu (1998)

Sunny Adé, son of a royal Yoruban familyhis father was a Methodist minister-church organist and his mother was leader of the choirwas interested in percussion instruments as a child, but his parents opposed a career in music: A Nigerian prince was meant to pursue law. At age seventeen Adé quit school to go to Lagos, teach himself to play guitar, and join the Rhythm Dandies, a high-life band run by Moses Olaiya (subsequently famous throughout Africa as Baba Sala, a comic and filmmaker). So began Adé's commercial empire, based on a tradition-based but futuristic, polyrhythmic West African guitar-orchestra dance style called "juju music."

The term juju may be imitative of the sounds of a small hexogonal tambourine. Others believe that it is a disparagement (like "mumbo jumbo") that musicians turn topsyturvy or a variant of jojo, Yoruban for "dance." The postWorld War II Nigerian singer/songwriter Tunde Nightingale and bandleader I. K. Dairo pioneered the style and influenced Adé, as did American soul stars James Brown and Brook Benton and the country singer Jim Reeves. Adé established his first band, the Green Spots (referring to Dairo's Blue Spots) in 1966, emphasizing Yoruba religious rhythms performed on hand-held percussion devices and two-head "talking drums," pulsating through interlocking layers of electric guitar riffs. He used this format in twelve albums recorded through 1974, reissued on CD as The Best of the Classic Years (2003).

Adé and juju music thrived during an era of oil-industry profitability and overall optimism in independent Nigeria. His subtle but energized and positive songs, with lyrics conveying social lessons through ancient Yoruban proverbs and parables, reflected a sophisticated Africa looking forward. When legal problems beset his arrangement with the Nigeria-Africa Song label, Adé formed his own firm, connected to the major U.S. label Decca Records, to back his new band, the African Beats. In 1982 the internationally distributed label Island Records signed King Sunny to a recording contract, hoping he would become the next black star to reach the heights of the recently deceased reggae singer/songwriter Bob Marley.

Adé's American debut album, JuJu Music (1982), and his follow-up, Syncro-system (1983), were well received, and he embarked on tours of the United States, Europe, and Japan with a troupe of some thirty members, including female background singers, interweaving electric guitarists and bassists, three talking drummers, a trap-set drummer, other percussionists, and players of electric keyboards, synthesizers, pedal-steel guitars, vibes, xylophones, and accordions. The singers shake beads and shells and netted gourds; the talking drummers ape speech patterns, hammering out fast phrases with curved sticks against drumheads, stretched taut or slackened to produce various tones. The guitarists play catchy, repetitive, sparkling grooves. The odd soloist dashes across the ensemble's steady state of sonic flux. The rhythms are irresistible, seemingly ancient and profound yet funky; they compel the body to move.

French producer Michael Messonier collaborated on Adé's third U.S. album, Aura (1984), with Stevie Wonder as harmonica soloist on the title track. But the mix muted the African Beat's power, and sales were disappointing. Though Adé performed in and contributed music to Robert Altman's film O. C. and Stiggs (1985), he was dropped by Island in 1988. In one well-publicized incident his band quit in the midst of a Japanese concert. Through the rest of the 1980s and early 1990s Adé continued to release albums in Nigeriahis catalog there numbers more than a hundredand appeared irregularly, purportedly to "combat rumors of my demise," usually in world music circuit venues. King Sunny Adé and His African Beat: Live at Montreux, a concert video released by Island Visual Arts in 1990, was shot during a 1983 performance.

In the early 1990s Adé sharpened his aim. Though he remained in the Yoruban tradition of praise singer rather than gadfly or polemicist like his friend and rival, the late Fela Kuti, he wrote more pointed lyrics, including a song about family planning, an ironic subject for a father of twelve.

Adé has invested his superstar earnings wisely and participates in the running of an oil firm, a mining company, a nightclub, and film and video production houses, among other concerns. Named the first president of the Musical Cooperative Society of Nigeria in 1982, Adé continues as chairman of the society's Advisory Council and as "patron" of the Juju Bandleaders' Association. He chairs the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria, and founded the King Sunny Adé Foundation with other Nigerian civic and business leaders.

Mesa recorded and released E Dide/Get Up (1995), Adé's first American studio album in over a decade. Adé also convened an African supergroup to record "The Way Forward," his composition advocating political unity among Nigerians of diverse ethnic strains. His next U.S. album, Odu (1998)recorded in Louisianawas celebrated as his return to top form. With management from the Seattle-based world music producer Andy Franklin, Adé has mounted new tours of Europe and the United States.

Adé remains a heroic entertainer, a lean, closely cropped man with a tight smile and great reverb, and the most elegant imaginable duckwalk-with-instrument. Adé slings his guitars low over his shoulder down to his hip or knees. He is a musician of nuance, not overkilla master of chord placement rather than a single-note line wonder. He understands tempi and pacing, and he often performs sets of an uninterrupted two or three hours. His immediately identifiable sound is a beacon of Afro-pop, influencing Caribbean dance styles, including reggae, soca, calypso, the music of African exiles in Europe, world music hybrids like Afro-Celt Sound System, and U.S. jam bands.


Live at the Hollywood Palace (I.R.S., 1992); E Dide (Get Up) (Mesa, 1995); Odu (Mesa, 1998); Seven Degrees North (Mesa, 2001); The Best of the Classic Years (Shanachie, reissued 2003).

WEBSITES: 546;; sunnyade.html.

howard mandel

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Adé, King Sunny." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Adé, King Sunny." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . (December 16, 2017).

"Adé, King Sunny." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from