Midway through the year 2000 I bought the compilation album The Best Best Of Fela Kuti – The Black President, which was released in 1999. Afrobeat entered my home. I was deeply impressed. I realized I knew way too little about African music. That was about to change. In 2001 I bought King Sunny Adé’s Juju Music. Once again deeply impressed, this time by an album that, at the time, was almost 20 years old.
King Sunny Adé
King Sunny Adé was born within a Nigerian royal family in Ondo. His father was a church organist and his mother was a trader. Adé left Nigeria to attend the University of Lagos. To his parents’ horror, he started his musical career there.
Halfway through the 1960’s he performed with Moses Olaiya’s Federal Rhythm Dandies. In 1967 he founded his own band: The Green Spots. Frustrated by the exploitation of regular record companies he started his own label Sunny Alade in 1974. Since then more than 100 Adé albums were released on the label.
King Sunny Adé is the un-appointed but undisputed king of jùjú music, the dance music that consists of Western pop and traditional African music, strongly rooted in the Nigerian guitar tradition. Besides begin a musician and label-owner he also owned his own nightclub. Adé released 3 to 4 albums on average, each year.
Adé introduced the pedal steel guitar in Nigerian pop music. He also introduced the use of synthesizers, clavinet and vibraphone in jùjú. These instruments were not used as innovation, but more from a practical point of view. They were used as replacement for the traditional jùjú instruments, which were too hard to find/maintain and/or proved to be too difficult to transport during tours. The pedal steel guitar, for instance, was used as an alternative for the African violin.
After Bob Marley’s passing in 1981, Island Records was searching for the next third-world artist to sign. The other great Nigerian star, Fela Kuti, was just signed to Arista Records. Producer Martin Meissonnier proposed King Sunny Adé to Island Records’ director Chris Blackwell. This led to a contract. The King Syunny Adé albums, which were released during the Island Records contract, appeared on the Mango sublabel. Juju Music was the first result, which gained Adé a huge audience and before long, Adé was called the African Bob Marley.
Juju Music was released in October 1982, 35 years ago. It’s the first album by Adé (And His African Beats) that was released world wide. It became a critical and commercial success, that made a lot of music lovers get into contact with afro-pop. For his Mango-label debut he was connected to French producer Martin Meissonnier, who, early on, made clear that the typical long Nigerian musical pieces would not work on Western audiences. For Juju Music Adé chose a number of old Nigerian hits, something he found very boring: “In Nigeria, we got used to non-stop recording, about 18 to 20 minutes of music. But over here, the music should be track-by-track for the radio and the dance floor. It’s like making a dress. One by one, the different pieces are joined together, but you can still see the lines where they meet”.
The song’s structures may have been altered, but Adé’s style remained intact. That style blended the afrobeat (which Tony Allen had introduced with Fela Kuti), African sing-along, reggae influences, country steel-guitar and Nigerian guitar together into one musical experience.
The music sounds more traditional (to me) than Fela Kuti’s music. The album has an excellent groove and has some definite highlights, of which 365 Is My Number/The Message is the absolute greatest.
The album was, given it was a (Western) debut, very successful. It was part of many critic’s end of year list. An international tour was planned, promoting the album. Never before did a Western record company invest that much time and money in an African artist.
All songs written by King Sunny Adé.
- Ja Funmi
- Eje Nlo Gba Ara Mi
- Mo Beru Agba
- Sunny Ti de Ariya
- Ma Jaiye Oni
- 365 Is My Number/The Message
- Samba/E Falaba Lewe
After Juju Music
The successor to Juju Music was 1983’s Synchro System, which was just as successful as its predecessor. It yielded a Grammy Award nomination for Adé, making him the first Nigerian Grammy Award nominee ever. In 1984 Aura was released. However, the album was not the success people had hoped for. As a result Island Records annulled the contract. According to Adé this was caused by his refusal to make his music more European and American friendly.
In 1990 Adé released Authority Of Your Ticket, which didn’t do much. E Dide (Get Up) (1995) was a fine album that was followed by Odu in 1988, which led to another Grammy nomination. Adé remained an important figure in Nigeria. He invested money in his own oil and coal company, a nightclub, a movie and video company, a PR firm and a record label specialized in recordings by African artists. Midway 1990’s Adé founded the King Sunny Adé Foundation, an organization with its own stage, recording studio and living quarters for young musicians and performers.
Adé’s short stint with Island Records made it possible for other African artists to get a contract in Europe and America, like Youssou N’Dour (Senegal), Salif Keita (Mali) and many others.
In November 2016 Adé received the AFRIMA (All Africa Music Award) award. In December 2016 he was added to the Hard Rock Cafe hall of fame.
Do you know King Sunny Adé’s music? What do you think about it? Let me know!
King Sunny Adé Logo & amp; King Sunny Adé images: permanentcondition.blogspot.com
King Sunny Adé – Juju Music image: afropop.org
King Sunny Adé – Live 1983 image: rollingstone.com