Monday, September 29, 2014 3:35 pm
King Sunny Ade, Juju music legend, recently clocked 68 and had a small reception for close family and friends in his palatial country home in Ondo, western Nigeria. The King of World Beats took time off to speak to FUNSHO AROGUNDADE about his life, music and state of the Nigerian music industry
Q: How do you feel turning 68?
I feel great and I thank God for making me see another year. It gives me an awesome feeling that between my last birthday and now, I had no cause to visit hospital to complain of any ailment. Also the music has not stopped for a bit. I thank and appreciate Almighty God.
In spite of your busy schedule, you still look very fit
I have no choice than to be very fit. Performing on stage for hours back-to-back almost every day is an exercise on its own. Besides, in my home here, I have a swimming pool, squash court, basketball court and tennis court. I also play golf. We now have a golf course very close to us, in Idanre. The golf course in Akure has been taken over by the Army. All these keep me fit and trim.
Do you go on holiday at all?
I do ask for it but you people would not allow me to have one. But I am planning to have one soon.
What about medical check-up?
I normally go for medical check-up abroad twice in a year. But in the last one year I have not done that. But any time I feel funny, I always put a call to my doctor over there.
You will be 70 in two years. [We] learnt you are planning something grand to celebrate that landmark.
First and foremost, we need to commit our lives into God’s hands to spare us beyond that time. I am used to planning my things very well and always ensuring that everything is put in a right perspective. Definitely, I will celebrate when the time comes, but to tell you the plans now will not be appropriate.
How has it been since you moved to Ondo?
Let me correct that; I spend more time in Lagos than Ondo. My businesses and immediate family are in Lagos. What I told you last year was that I would be moving back home gradually. I plan to be spending more time in Ondo and this will be gradual.
Lately, you are being seen more with many of these new generation artistes. Are we expecting any major collaboration between you and some of them?
I cannot tell you about [collaborations] for now. But I must confess that I find their company very stimulating. Just recently, I was with some of these boys, including Olamide and Wizkid, at Mo Abudu’s 50th birthday. We were like a family. If any of them I willing to have collaboration with me, they are welcome. I love all of them and that’s why they all call me their father.
Many were stunned with your perfect combination with D’Banj at the last Glo Evergreen Series in Lagos. Did you rehearse that gig or was it happenstance?
To tell you the truth, we never rehearsed that D’Banj’s song, Mobomowonlowo. In fact, I knew little about the song prior to that night. But when he came to meet me behind the stage, we both listened to the song and I told him where I would come in during the performance. We thank God that everything went well that day. But what actually happened that we could not meet to rehearse was that days leading to that event, I was busy with some projects in Abuja, while D’Banj, I learnt, was in South Africa and also came in a few days to the event.
Last year you were part of the first season of Coke Studio Africa but looking at the roll call of artistes involved in the second season this year, your name is missing. What happened?
There is no problem. Last year I was invited to Kenya to be part of the first season of that wonderful project and we all had a wonderful experience. But this new season, maybe the organisers wanted to give other artistes opportunity to share in the experience. You know there are many talented artistes in Africa and they may want to spread the opportunity round. Maybe next time they can still bring me back; you can never tell.
What is your general view of the present state of Nigerian music industry?
Firstly, I thank God that we have been able to make our own brand of music acceptable to our people. Gone are those days when our people showed preference to foreign music; things are changing fast. Also the young musicians themselves have evolved their own styles and no longer copy their foreign counterparts. Most of our musicians are now picking from either Juju or Fuji music to create their individual music style. This means Nigerian musicians are working very hard. Secondly, many parents now allow and support their children to play music, unlike when we started. This shows there is a positive progression in the industry.
What are the challenges running a big band like the Golden Mercury of Africa?
Well, let me explain what a big band is. A big band starts from five. But I have a 50-member band. At every point in time on stage, we have about 23 members plus two engineers, making it 25. Sometimes we could have like five dancers, making 30. We have about 10 roadies, and if we are going to use the stage, the lights and those with the two trucks that we normally use, we would be going to 50. It depends on the venue of our shows. If it is a hall, we have a smaller band. But if you put us outside, like a stadium, we use our complete band. So, I will say it is not easy to move a big band. The economy is not so friendly and this affects us also. I have been so used to a big band and it is very difficult to adjust to something smaller so that it won’t affect the qualities of music that we give to our people.
What about when you travel to play at foreign gigs, do you still travel with such large numbers of band members?
In the 1980s and 1990s, I used to travel abroad with about 27 to 28 members. But now, we have had to cut down the numbers of our band members travelling abroad for shows to below 20.
During some of your musical tours abroad, have you had the experience of some of your band members absconding?
Yes, I have. But I usually tell my band members that if you are travelling with a band to go and perform abroad, and you are planning to escape, if care is not taken you will be a loser. The moment you are there and your visa expires, the police will be after you. And once they catch you, you are deported home. And once you are back home, you can never join the band again. Most of the people who absconded in the past are now home.
I don’t know. I never bother to find out. I have warned most of them before. I told them that it is better to be at home and live with what we get here. There is no place like home. A lot of things that we take for granted here, you can’t try it overseas. We can do a lot of things with the little that we have here. In fact, it pays them more because for a musician like me, once I travel, I play nearly every day except on Monday. It is by God’s grace. The moment promoters abroad are aware that we are coming abroad on tour, they engage us for more shows and that is extra something for them.
What is your take on the sliding relevance of Juju music in Nigeria?
Let me say that it is not only Juju music that is confronted with that challenge but other traditional genres too. I believe generally, Nigerian music industry needs surgery. Nevertheless, there are some challenges facing our genre. Running a band is a very expensive venture. Look at it this way: given the Nigerian economy, how many musicians can afford to buy musical instruments for their bands? It is just few, because to buy a very good guitar will cost you nothing less than N60,000, except you just need an anyhow guitar. Most of the instruments do not come cheap. In fact, most of us rent some of the instruments; and they also don’t come cheap as well. They come in different categories and rental prices range from N500,000 to N1 million.
You are a Juju music maestro but in the global music scene, your brand of music is categorised as ‘World Beats’. Why did you agree to that categorisation?
When I was given that title as the King of World Beats, I did explain this question. When African music started gaining recognition at the international level, it was very difficult for them to categorise our kind of music. And essentially, because of my own music they now created World Beats. They noticed that if there is a Jazz festival, I would be there and perform very well. Rhythm and Blues or Soul concerts, I will be there. At Reggae festival, I will be there. In fact, I was the first Nigerian musician to play at the Reggae Sunsplash. So this sort of confounded them. They initially categorised me into the Cross Over but it didn’t sit well until they came up with World Beats; and World Beats fits well.
As a master guitarist, have you ever been inspired to fashion out your own guitar as many other prominent guitarist the world over do?
Yes, it’s true that I have my own style of playing the guitar. I have my special line. If I place my guitar here and if you are a guitarist, you can’t play it because of the way I tuned it. You have to study it to be able to play it. I have my own special line of guitar. I have my own creation of guitar. That was why some years ago I was recognised as number 68 master guitarist in the whole world.
There was a time you and famous Carlos Santana were described in the same line.
Yes, that is true.
Have you both met?
Yes. We are friends.
Can both of you play each other’s guitar?
If Carlos drops his guitar, I will try my best. If I drop mine, when he picks it he will see how I tuned it. He plays zone on regular and mine is open chord.
Are you planning to work together?
Yes, but he has just been inducted into the Music Hall of Fame and we are still celebrating that achievement. Maybe later we will still get down to think of future collaboration.