King Sunny Ade: Life, Legacy and the Evolution of Juju Music

Olubayo Stephen
May 8, 2023

His Life and Career

Sunday Adeniyi Adegeye is a Nigerian juju singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who goes by the stage name King Sunny Adé. He is known as one of the first African Pop artists to become popular around the world, and he has been called one of the most influential musicians of all time. King Sunny Ade is the only Nigerian who has ever been nominated for two Grammys. He has been honored for his contributions to music both inside and outside of his home country. For example, he has been inducted into the Afropop and Hard Rock Cafe Halls of Fame twice.

On September 22, 1946, King Sunny Adé was born into the Adegeye royal dynasty in Ondo State. Before moving to Abeokuta and Lagos in 1962, he grew up in Osogbo and attended the African School, Methodist School, and Saint Charles Grammar School. King Sunny Ade loved music as a youngster and aspired to be a performer, but no one would allow him since he is royalty, and as a prince, you cannot play music; music is performed for you. Consequently, he constantly snuck out to dance and sing along with music bands.

King Sunny Adé started with the Idou Woye music group. When they proceeded to perform for the coronation of a new King, he accompanied this troupe to Abeokuta. after the performance, he informed the band leader that he would want to see his brother in Lagos, so they handed him some cash. He then moved to Lagos and became a member of Moses Olaiye's band, the Federal Rhythm Dandies.

In 1966, Sunny Adé quit Olaiye's band to form his own, the Green Spots. In only two weeks, the single, titled “Challenge Cup”, which was his first big success in 1969, sold over 500,000 copies. He changed the band's name to African Beats between 1973 and 1974 because a cigarette manufacturer named Green Spots wanted to use them to advertise their brand. Because the African Beats split up in 1985, he once again changed the band's name to King Sunny Adé and His New African Beats.

Sunny Adé's band set off on a tour of North and South America and Europe in 1982. He became well-known throughout the tour for his dancing moves and guitar-playing style, which was modeled after Tunde Nightingale's. He made this decision in an effort to stand out from other Juju players.

The New York Times called him one of the greatest bandleaders in history. He was also described as a breath of fresh air and a force for good that would be felt for some time, while Trouser Press called him one of the most alluring and significant musicians in history.

In 1983, he released another album, Synchro System, after his tour. The record was a great hit as well and led him to his first Grammy nomination. He was therefore the first Nigerian to get a Grammy nomination. King Sunny Ade was assigned to the position of visiting music professor at Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife in 2009. In 2017, he returned to the stage in London with Ebenezer Obey for a musical comeback titled "A Night 2 Remember with the Legends."

Younger Nigerian musicians like Wasiu Alabi Pasuma and Bola Abimbola, as well as bigperformers like Manu Dibango (Wakafrika) and Stevie Wonder (who performed theharmonica on Aura), have also worked with Sunny.

The short recordings Sunny Adé made for Island Records served as a springboard for otherworld music performers including Senegalese Youssou N'Dour, Salif Keita from Mali, andmany others.

His Contributions to the Evolution of Juju Music

Jùjú is a prominent music genre from Nigeria that was inspired by traditional Yoruba drums. The term "juju" or "jiju," which means "throwing" or "anything being hurled," is the source of the name in Yoruba. Juju music was not named after juju, which is "a sort of sorcery and the use of magical artifacts or witchcraft widespread in West Africa, Haiti, Cuba, and other South American countries." Juju music has a magical undercurrent; it was primarily employed by the Yoruba people to conjure the powers of their gods while worshiping in their shrines using native African percussions. They use it to praise their gods in an effort to win their favor. Juju music has been used to applaud individuals at events and make them spray money when they are properly praised ever since, which is why it is still utilized today. It developed over a long period of time, but in the 1920s metropolitan clubs all over the world modernized it for the enjoyment of clubgoers. There are many people that sing juju music for the enjoyment of the public. Some perform it at festivities in palm wine joints, while others go from home to house singing praises to the wealthy, monarchs, strong men, and leaders. AbdulRafiu Babatunde King, well known by his stage name Tunde King, is credited with creating juju music. Although he wasn't the one who invented Juju music, Tunde King and Ojoge Daniel made the first Jùjú records during the 1920s, the same decade in which Tunde King initially popularized it.

Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, began looking for a successor for Bob Marley after his tragic death in 1981. Despite the fact that they were considered to be of the same stock by the Western music business, King Sunny Adé and Bob Marley were two very distincttypes of performers in terms of genres, messages, style, and origin. This fallacious assumption treated all worldwide Black music equally and lumped it into the divisive "world music" category.

King Sunny Adé knew this, therefore he intentionally titled his subsequent album after the kind of music he was performing. When he was a child, Yoruba drums and vocals dominated jùju, making it largely folk and social music. In Nigeria throughout the second part of the 20th century, juju music replaced highlife music as the most popular and dominating sound. Along with trailblazing performers like Tunde Nightingale, Adéolu Akinsanya, Ayinde Bakare,Dele Ojo, Ebenezer Obey, Fatai Rolling Dollar, and I. K. Dairo, Adé played a crucial part in popularizing Jùjú both within and outside of Nigeria.

King Sunny Ade told NYC Radio Live that the colonialists gave his kind of music the moniker.Although the term "jùju" or "jiju," which means "throwing" in Yoruba, is where the name originates, British colonialists in Nigeria gave the noises they were hearing from diverse communities the name "jùju." They didn't realize it was a free sound. This fundamental element of the genre allowed Adé to be creative.

The Iya Ilu, or "talking drum," was the most common instrument used in jùju. Adé did something new when he added the pedal steel guitar to juju music. Odia Ofeimun, a poet and cultural critic from Nigeria, says on an episode of Afropop Worldwide that Sunny Adé was unique because of his dedication to the guitar, which made all the difference. Even if you didn't speak Yoruba, you were able to follow the flow of those guitar strings. He represented a fresh approach to jùju music.

King Sunny Adé is one of Nigeria's best wordsmiths, in addition to his guitar talents. He was a unique force in jùju music because he spoke both standard Yoruba and contemporary slang with ease. In a nation of people divided by tribe and language and united by boundaries and cultural exchanges, he had mastered speaking to (and for) his own before addressing a worldwide audience. It takes a lot of skill to create music that unites all Nigerians.


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Ani, Ivie. “‘Juju Music’: King Sunny Adé Introduces A Nigerian Genre To The World.”uDiscover Music, September 22, 2022.

ReDhalia. “King Sunny Ade: Biography, Net Worth And Songs Of A Legendary Musician.”, September 2019.

VitamynT. “King Sunny Ade (Life and Career) - Opera News.” King Sunny Ade (Life andCareer) - Opera News. Accessed November 12, 2022.

Ani, Ivie. “‘Juju Music’: King Sunny Adé Introduces A Nigerian Genre To The World.”uDiscover Music, September 22, 2022.

Juju music - HISTORY OF JUJU MUSICJùjú is a style of... | Facebook. “Juju Music.” AccessedNovember 12, 2022.

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