Reprint form Shepherd Express 1992 Summerfest 1992 Issue
‘KING SUNNY ADE’‘
Nirvana by Way of Juju
With over 400 distinct ethnic groups, Nigeria has perhaps the most complex cultural scene in all of Africa.
Emerging from the diversity and vitality of Nigerian music is ‘juju’, a progressive 20th century form of music brought to us by the Yoruba tribe. Having evolved from a traditional percussive ensemble and chorus, juju in the 90′s contains a veritable orchestra of voices, electronic guitars, bass, keyboards and percussion.
At the forefront of the genre today is King Sunny Ade, perhaps juju’s most prolific artist. Born a prince into the royal family of Ondo, his parents wanted him to go into the family businesses. He chose music instead, playing with bands shortly after a brief term in college in 1962. It was his first band, Moses and the Rhythm Dandies, where he learned to play guitar.
“They didn’t know who I was because i changed my name, which was Sunday Adene, to Sunny Ade,” began King Sunny Ade from his hotel room in Philadelphia.
Things changed, however, when King Ade’s music began to take off and his unknowing parents heard him on the radio and saw him on TV. He claims that they sent for him on three different occasions but when he kept running away, they finally stopped.
From an early age, King Ade was exposed to a wide variety of Western music, which explains the many influences he infuses into his own compositions. “Language is not a barrier at all; the music is there to speak by itself,” he said.
Having released more than 50 albums since 1970, King Ade plays a fast and spacey style of juju characterized by tight vocal harmonies and intricate guitar work backed up by talking drums and percussion. King Ade breaks from tradition by taking juju in a more pronounced direction, experimenting with different instruments not inherant to the genre. On his last album, Aura, he added a more Jamaican influence and used chromatic harmonica, Hawaiian style slide guitar and studio dub effects.
“Nowadays you cannot stick to one particular form of music,” King Ade contended. “You have to make it grow up to a certain generation or you will be left behind.”
King Ade is quick to add that while he includes some innovations uncharacteristic to traditional juju, he retains the basic structure.
“These are the recordings of my town. The rhythms will always be there, just with a new touch to it.”
As for his own personal tastes, King Ade claims that they also vary. “I listen to all types of music; jazz, R & B… juju,’ he laughed.
King Ade’s home is Legus, 300 miles from where he attended the university in Oshubu. Those curious about lifestyles in the nation may be surprised. “Legus is like anywhere else in the world,” King Ade said. “We are all friendly. There are so many Americans living near where I do - we all love each other - no problem.”
The government does not allow him to go to South Africa due to sanctions, but once they are lifted, King Ade says that he will probably go. “In this respect, music has no politics,” he said in reference to the fact that there are some who would never play there in any case. “You can use it for education or enjoyment. Music is the water from which everyone drinks.”
King Ade has also become known for his generous sets—four hours of juju leave the audience awash in a sea of rhythmic movement. Ade has justifiably earned the title “Minister of Enjoyment.”
“When people come to see me they always dance. You cannot help but to do it. If there is music playing a baby will dance without you having to teach them. A little baby. He won’t know what he is dancing to, but he will do it. Once you hear it, it is always in the blood. Music is the soul of life, so don’t stop.”
King Ade appears at 10 pm Tuesday at Summerfest Miller Oasis
KT Rusch 1992