Born Sunday Adeniyi, on September 1, 1946, in Oshogbo, Nigeria; 12 children. Addresses: Home--Nigeria. Record company--Mesa/Blue Moon Records (Distributed in United States by Rhino Records), 209 East Almeda, #101, Burbank, CA 91502.

Ordained the "King of Juju Music" in the late 1970s by a group of journalists and music critics, King Sunny Ade 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 juju--which is primarily a form of praise music sung in a local Nigerian Yoruba language that merges guitars with percussion in a lively style--is a so-called "synchro" style that utilizes synthesizers and other electronics technology, including computers.

Ade was greatly influenced by the "So wa mbe" style of juju pioneered by Tunde Nightingale and "is one of juju's great innovators," according to Jon Pareles in the New York Times. Noting Ade's dynamic stage presence and versatility as a singer, Pareles also stated, "Mr. Ade, whose unruffled tenor is one of rock's 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 competitions...while a drummer encourages him with improvisations."

Ade 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 Ade elevated juju "from street music played by a few instruments into a big-band style that can shimmer and crackle."

While growing up, Ade 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 Ade joined a traveling musical comedy troupe, but by 1964 he was playing lead guitar in Moses Olaiya Adejumo's Federal Rhythm Dandies. After also playing briefly with Tunde Nightingale, he decided in 1965 to form his own group, Sunny Ade and His High Society Band. The next year he changed his group's name to the Green Spots, presumably a playful reference to I. K. Dairo's 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.

It didn't take long for Ade 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, Ade 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, Ade 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 wasn't 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, Ade 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.

Hoping to capitalize on growing interest in African music in the United Kingdom, Ade started his African Series of releases with the Sound d'Afrique compilation album in 1981. His plans agreed with those of England's Island Records, which was eager to find a replacement for the tropical music of Bob Marley, who had died in 1980. Island Records signed Ade to a contract in 1982 for releases in Europe and North America. Ade 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, Ade became a wordwide phenomenon and was in constant demand for performances. "[Ade's] 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 himself-- all gave off strong commercial signals," noted World Music.

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

The popularity of Juju Music, as well as Ade's next album, Synchro System, was due in large part to French producer Martin Meissonnier. Meissonnier helped to expand Ade's appeal by bringing in synthesizers and Linn drums without negating the music's roots in traditional Yoruba music or making the songs unpalatable to long-time Nigerian fans. However, Island's expectations were high, since the company was looking for someone with the mass appeal of Bob Marley. "Sunny Ade's 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, Ade's third album with Island, the label dropped his contract. Bad news continued from that point for Ade, whose musicians began making demands for salary increases following triumphant tours of the United States and Japan. Ade claimed that he couldn't 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, Ade was forced to form a new band, which he called Golden Mercury.

Perhaps bitter over his recent troubles, Ade 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 Ade, who had 12 children at the time.

Since 1974, Sunny Ade 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 E Dide (Get Up) on the Mesa label in 1995. Reviewer Frank Scheck noted in the Christian Science Monitor that the album's "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 Ade records and performs mainly in Nigeria, where he is still arguably the country's most successful recording artist.

by Ed Decker

King Sunny Ade's Career

Part-time percussionist with Sunday Ariyo's and Idowu Owoeye's 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 Ade and His High Society Band, 1965; changed his band's 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.

Famous Works

Further Reading


Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 16 years ago

Sunny ade is one of the best thing that has happened to nigeria and i pray God will touch him to do and fulfil Gods purpose for is live.I which he could come to Jesus and sing a good christian song that will challenge the other musicians.