King Sunny Ade

Category: Top Nigerian Musicians

King Sunny Ade is a popular performer of Yoruba Nigerian Juju music and pioneer of modern world music in Nigeria. He has been classed as one of the most influential musicians of all time.

He is the Chairman of the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria, Visiting Professor of Music at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.

He was born on September 22 1946 in Ondo to a Nigerian royal family. His father was a Methodist church minister and organist while his mother was a trader.

He went to Grammar School at Osogbo but dropped out to pursue his music career in Lagos. He joined the Rhythm Dandies, led by Moses Olaiya (later known as Baba Sala, Nigeria’s preeminent funny man and prolific film maker).

He later formed his own band, “The Green Spots” in 1967 and launched his own record label, Decca records which he later changed to African Beats in 1974. The label has since released more than 100 Sunny Ade’s recordings in Nigeria.

The African Beats band is made up of between twenty to thirty members. They play spacey, jamming sort of juju, characterized by tight vocal harmonies intricate guitar work, backed by traditional talking drums, percussion instruments, and even adding the unusual pedal steel guitar and accordion.

He was the first to introduce the pedal steel guitar to Nigerian pop music. He was the first to introduce the use of synthesizers, clavinet, vibraphone, tenor guitar into juju music repertoire such as club and wah-wah guitar.

When Sunny Ade headlined concerts in the United States, the New York Time’s Robert Palmer described one of Ade’s several concerts in New York in the 1980s one of the most significant pop music events of the decade and Ade as one of the world’s great band leaders.

He was billed “African Bob Marley” after the death of Bob Marley when Island Records was looking for another third world artist to put on its contract, while Fela Kuti had just been signed by Arista records. Sunny Ade was introduced by Martin Meissonier to Chris Blackwell leading to the release of juju music in 1982.

However Sunny Ade’s refusal to allow Island music meddle with his compositions and over-Europeanize and Americanize his music were the reasons why Island looked elsewhere.

Most of his earnings from music are invested into oil firms, mining companies, night clubs, film and video production companies, PR Firms and record label.

More than 700 people are employed by Sunny Ade’s companies.

In the mid 90’s he founded the King Sunny Ade Foundation, an organization that includes a performing arts center, a state of the art recording studio, and housing for young musicians and performers on a five acre land donated by the Lagos State Government.

Sunny Ade has collaborated with popular world artists like, Manu Dibango in “WAKAFRIKA” and Stevie Wonder (played harmonica in Aura)

His 1980’s Odu, a collection of traditional Yoruba songs was nominated for the second Grammy award, and thus making him the first African to be nominated twice for a Grammy.

In 2008 his contributions to the world music was recognized when he was given an award for his outstanding contribution to world music at the Reggae and world music awards held at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York.

In 1983 his music featured in “Breathless” a Hollywood movie featuring Richard Gere and in 1986, his music was again featured on “One More Saturday Night”, a Hollywood comedy.

He acted in Robert Altman’s 1987 comedy- O.C and Stiggs.

He was appointed a visiting professor of music at Obafemi Awolowo University in 2009. In July 2009 he was again inducted into the Afro- pop Hall of Fame at Brooklyn African Festival, USA.

Popularly called KSA, Sunny Ade is known as the king of juju music. He was inspired by the music of I.K Dairo and Tunde Nightingale.

He is married with children.


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