Ade, Sunny (Prince Sunday Adeniyi Adegeye)

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Ade, Sunny (Prince Sunday Adeniyi Adegeye)

Ade, Sunny (Prince Sunday Adeniyi Adegeye), major star of the urban Yoruba juju style and one of the few African musicians to gain a following overseas; b. Ondo, Nigeria, Sept. 1946 (exact date unknown). His father, Prince Samuel Adeniyi Adegeye, was a Methodist trader and amateur church musician. His mother, Princess Marian Adeniyi Adegeye, sang in chapel choirs. Ade dropped out of school at about age 14 and worked as a drummer with a local highlife group, Moses Olaiya and his Federal Rhythm Dandies, while picking up acoustic guitar, which he began playing in public in 1965. In 1966, Ade formed a shortlived group called The High Society Band. The following year he launched his first major band, The Green Spots. The group’s debut record, made in 1967, sank almost without a trace (Ade once estimated selling a total of 23 copies). But the second record, “Challenge Cup ’67,” a song in praise of a popular football team released in 1968, sold a reputed 23, 000 copies. The band’s first LP, Alanu Loluwa, appeared the same year on the Nigeria-Africa Song label.

For any juju group aiming at permanent stardom, an instantly recognizable sound, preferably with a memorable name, was crucial. Ade first increased his frontline from the standard two guitars to four or five. In 1974, Ade launched his own record label, Sunny Alade Records, whose first release, “Synchro System/’ introduced and was named after a new, catchy dance style that reflected his increasing commitment to electronics. In 1975, Ade made his first tour outside Africa, performing in Washington, D.C., Boston, N.Y., and Detroit as part of a U.S. government-sponsored cultural exchange program. It was on his return home from this trip that Ade, a prince by birthright, was dubbed “king” by Nigeria’s musical press. By this time, his band was the creative leader in the field of juju, with a sound built on his own high, clear vocal tone, the use of synthesizers and other innovations, and the now- standard Nigerian recording procedure of segueing from one song to another without a break in the rhythm. Ade also introduced the pedal steel guitar, the vibraphone, and the remixing of multitrack recordings, and electrified the talking drum (already a lead instrument in its own right).

Ade’s definitive move into the international scene came in 1982, when he signed a contract with the British company Island Records, which had introduced Jamaican reggae to the world. By this time Ade’s albums on his own label were selling more than 200, 000 copies apiece, and Island counted on similar sales for their own first release. In hope of turning Ade into a international star, the company hired as producer a Frenchman with experience in working with African musicians, Martin Meissonnier, and launched a major media campaign in both the U.S. and Britain. Ade’s first Island LP, Juju Music, was a remix of a previous Alade label release that simplified the complex juju rhythms to a light funk beat and inserted Meissonnier’s own synthesizer part. On both sides of the Atlantic, press coverage of both the recording and an early 1983 concert tour was largely enthusiastic, and the album made it into the Billboard charts in February 1983, just as Ade began a 22-city U.S. tour. But it did not break into the Top 100 album charts, and U.S. sales of around 60, 000, though phenomenal for an African artist, fell far short of Island’s target. The second release, Synchro System (not a re-mix of Ade’s 1974 album but a new studio recording) sold about the same quantity amid tepid press reviews. The third Island release, Aura, featured U.S. star Stevie Wonder on one track in an attempt to increase sales. But the critics were again cool, Wonder did nothing for sales, and Island cancelled the rest of Ade’s contract.

However, in Nigeria, Ade was still a major star, and a wealthy man. Along with his band and record label, he owned a successful Lagos nightspot, the Ariwa Club. But perhaps as a result of the Island experience, his lyrics increasingly turned to themes of jealousy, rumor, authority, and destiny. In 1984, Ade disbanded his group during a tour of Japan, and the following year he dissolved the Sunny Alade record label. In 1986, he formed a new group, the Golden Mercury (which included most members of his old one), launched a new label, Atom Park, and resumed his previous level of recording and performance. In 1987 he also returned to the international music scene with a tour in support of a Mercury- label compilation drawn from his recent Nigerian releases. Unlike the Island releases, Return of the Juju King was Ade straight, as was the 17-piece band that he brought to Europe and the U.S. for the 1987 tour. Ade’s return to the international scene continued with a pair of successful concerts in Britain in 1988; the release the same year on the U.S. RykoDisc label of Live Live Juju, a recording of a Seattle concert; and another U.S. tour in 1989.

Also in 1989, Ade recorded an album, Wait for Me, containing two cuts advocating birth-control made with the young, American-educated female pop-star Onyeka. The following year, it was revealed that the recording had been funded by the USAID’s Office of Population. Ade and Onyeka were criticized by some African-Americans as “accomplices to an attack on African cultural traditions and religious beliefs” (though the production of political and social praise songs to order is itself a well-established cultural tradition). Nigerian critics focused on his cooperation with a pop star, and commented that his 12 children hardly enhanced his credibility as a spokesman for birth- control.

Meanwhile, Ade’s health was causing concern. In February 1991, he became ill during a performance in Lagos and went to London to recuperate from what was officially stated to be exhaustion. By May the same year he was back on stage, and in 1992 he launched yet another record label, Sigma, which—unlike his previous ones—handled its own distribution. Meanwhile he continued to play regularly at home and made annual overseas tours. And in early 1994 he set up the King Sunny Ade Foundation, whose principal aim is to help both young musicians and struggling older artists. The foundation is currently building a headquarters, including recording and production studios, performance venues, recreational facilities, housing for use by visiting artists, and residences for elderly and retired musicians with no other means of support. The foundation is also planning an education program.


Juju Music (1982); Synchro System (1983); Aura (1985); Live Live Juju (1988); Live at Hollywood Palace (1992); £ Dide (1995).

—Lewis Porter