King Sunny Ade

b. Sunday Adeniyi, 1946, Ondo State, Nigeria

ADE WAS A leading exponent of “juju” music, a style which originated in the 40s and fused traditional Yoruba music with highlife, the Ghanaian dance music. Adding electric instrumentation, guitarist and singer Ade and his African Beats frequently toured Europe in the ’70s and ’80s.

His father was an organist and his mother a church singer. Ade’s own professional career began in 1965 as a musician with Moses Olaiya’s travelling theatre troupe. Moving to the Nigerian capital Lagos, he played with highlife bands before forming the Green Spots. The group’s first hit was a football song, ‘Challenge Cup’ (1967). In the same year he recorded the first of his twelve albums for Song Records, Aluna Loluwa.

After a dispute with Song in 1974, Ade went on to release numerous albums on his own Sunny Alade label, performing religious and socially-based songs with a guitar and vocal chorus group that numbered up to eighteen members. In 1975, the year Ade made his first trip to Britain and changed the name of his band to African Beats, Bob Aladeniyi, the band’s deputy leader, left to form the Jungle Rock Stars. For much of the second half of the ’70s Ade toured, bringing his guitar-led juju music with its tight harmonies and songs about Nigerian social issues to expatriate Nigerian audiences in the USA, Japan and Europe.

In 1981 Ade signed with Island Records for Europe and North America. His first records, Juju Music (1981) and Synchro System (1983), were critical successes as was Aura (1984), which included Stevie Wonder as a guest musician, but sales were small and Island dropped him in 1985. In the same year the African Beats broke up and Ade formed a new band, Golden Mercury, and returned to Nigeria. There he recorded solely for the domestic market and performed at his own club in Lagos, occasionally performing in the USA. Live Ju Ju (Provogue, 1988) was recorded in Seattle, Washington, USA. It was followed by the superior The Return of the Juju King (1989).

In 1994 Ade toured the USA and released Live at the Hollywood Palace through EMI, but for most of the ’90s he remained in Nigeria, issuing a stream of reissues of his Green Spot days. The most notable of these were Master Guitarist, Vols 1 & 2 (1994, 1995). In 1998 Ade made his first tour of Europe for some time and in 1999 performed once again in the US with sets that downplayed his social concerns in favour of the rhythmic delights of Juju. He followed that with Seven Degrees North (Mesa, 2000), on which he again centred on the exuberance of Juju on songs such as ‘Congratulations’ and ‘Merciful God’.

© Phil Hardy, Dave LaingFaber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music, 2001

Leave a Comment