King Sunny Ade
"He's gliding through his own stratosphere, high on his own supply." - Excerpt from a Rolling Stone magazine review of the Sunny Ade compilation album, 'The Classic Years' (1967-1974)
I guess 'Juju' as a genre and a philosophy of music was the opposite of the particular formula invented by Fela Kuti that came to be known as 'Afro-beat'. Sunny's development of Juju continued that music's 'conservative' style and image. Although occasionally 'cheeky' in vocal and musical expression, it was generally inoffensive and did not challenge the forces shaping society, instead, it was steeped in 'praise singing', humour and the exposition of traditional Yoruba values. A Juju musician like Sunny would never sing as Fela did about the hard-bitten life of the common man getting out of prison and living on the edge.
But the music was dynamic. Complexly constructed but simple in its delivery and ability to enable the listener to understand its cadences and its raison d'être. Fela apparently grumbled when Sunny began to incorporate certain features of Afro-beat into his music. But he must have understood that Sunny was merely elevating his music. He was not 'copying' Fela, Sunny's music remained of its kind and Fela would have instinctively understood the syncretic nature of Yoruba culture which applied to the music-making devices of both men.
Both Fela's ‘yabis’ style of hurling insults at the powerful and Sunny's penchant for praise singing are long-lasting and authentic forms of social and political expression in Yoruba society. Both men may have seemed like opposites: 'conservative' versus 'radical', 'compliant' versus 'contrarian' and to some 'good' versus 'evil', yet both had the greatest respect for the other. Sunny Ade's personality reflected his music as Fela's did his. Whereas Fela was a veritable Zitatenschatz; a treasure trove of his own quotes, Sunny was -is- soft-spoken. He has always been content to let his music speak, and millions have been enthralled and will continue to be for an infinite period of time.
Sunday Adeniyi better known by his nom de guerre King Sunny Ade was born on September 22nd 1946 in Oshogbo, Nigeria.
© Adeyinka Makinde (2016)
Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based writer.